How To Communicate Your Return To Work Plan

by Rebecca Symmank on December 10, 2020
iOFFICE Hummingbird

Strong HR leadership has become central to workplace management, especially during these uncertain times. In a recent Gartner survey, more than half of respondents said communicating their return-to-work plan to employees is a primary responsibility of HR professionals right now.

Because this is a particularly confusing and sensitive time for most employees, it’s important for HR leaders to ease their fears and continue to build trust. You need to communicate your return-to-work strategy carefully while remaining empathetic to employees’ concerns.

While this is still uncharted territory for all of us, Gartner offers several solid recommendations.

8 tips for communicating your return-to-work plan

1. Take ownership

Just as most people don’t open an email if they don’t recognize the sender, your employees will be less likely to pay attention to your return-to-work plan if it doesn’t come from an individual. Given the significance of this message, it’s best for it to come from someone on the executive team. That could be your CEO, VP of operations, head of HR, or your director of corporate real estate. Employees need to hear from someone they know and recognize.

Department managers and leaders at each location should reinforce the message to their teams. Ideally, this should happen during a company or department meeting. This ensures employees understand the new policies and guidelines and have the opportunity to ask questions.

2. Reinforce the message and update it regularly

Rumors thrive when there’s a lack of information. At the same time, too many details can be confusing and overwhelming.

You need to find the right balance between sharing regular updates and bombarding employees with updates that may not be relevant to them.

Define critical events — such as new safety policies or state guidelines — and establish a cadence for providing updates. Unless these updates have an immediate impact on employees, the best time to announce them may be at weekly company meetings.

3. Package different sets of communications for different audiences

Not every message needs to go out to every employee. While you can send some information to a company-wide audience, you can target some messages to employees in specific roles or at certain locations.

For instance, if a new government regulation only affects your office in one state, there’s no reason to update everyone unless you have off-site employees who frequently travel to that office.

This reduces clutter and ensures employees understand how each new policy directly impacts them.

4. Maintain a tone of empathy and understanding

Given the seriousness of the situation, it’s important to show empathy and concern for employees’ safety. Explain the measures you have taken to protect employees as they return to work. Acknowledge their feelings about what they’ve experienced in the past year, both as individuals and as an organization. Don’t avoid difficult conversations.

Be honest, authentic, and transparent in your communication. Tell employees what you know, and be honest about what you don’t.

If you don’t have an answer, give employees a realistic timeline for when you expect to know more information.

5. Explain your new health and safety protocols

As employees return to work, they are going to find themselves in unfamiliar territory. Your communication is key to making this return as seamless as possible.

Explain your new return-to-work plan and policies clearly.

Be sure to include:

  • Guidelines for limiting capacity and maintaining physical distance in the office
  • New policies for wearing masks during the workday
  • New signs you have implemented to moderate foot traffic (including where to enter and exit and which way to travel through hallways and stairways)
  • How you plan to screen employees prior to entering the workplace
  • Expectations for using common areas like break rooms
  • Expectations for cleaning and sanitizing surfaces after each use

6. Have a plan for communicating a potential COVID-19 exposure

Your employees want to be notified if they have been exposed to someone who tested positive. At the same time, they want to be reassured their status will be kept confidential if they disclose a positive test. Employees also need to know what they are expected to do if they test positive or have been potentially exposed to someone who did.

These communications should be an important part of your return-to-work plan.

Make sure employees know what is expected of them and what they can expect from your company’s leadership.

For instance, employees who test positive will be expected to disclose their test to their direct manager, who will report it to the HR director. The HR director will then be responsible for notifying employees who may have been in contact with that person without disclosing their identity.

The individual who tested positive will be expected to self-isolate for 14 days, while those who have been potentially exposed should be tested only if they show symptoms.

7. Give employees opportunities to voice their concerns

Good workplace communication is a continuous feedback loop, not a set of directives. Employees need to share their opinions and voice concerns during company meetings, through confidential surveys, or in conversation with their managers.

Make sure you offer ample opportunities for dialogue in both formal and informal ways.

8. Use multiple communication channels

Employees have different preferences for receiving information. Some are good at maintaining an organized inbox with every relevant message filed away, while others respond better to text messages. Other employees prefer discussions during company meetings or visual reminders of what’s expected when they’re working in the office.

Using a variety of platforms can help you reach employees more effectively.

In addition to email, consider sharing important announcements via internal communication platforms like Slack or a company-wide app.

Make internal communications a breeze with iOFFICE Hummingbird

Your return-to-work plan will continue to evolve, even after you’ve reopened. You need a reliable, easily accessible channel to share these important updates with employees.

The Hummingbird workplace app makes it easy to send important announcements in a timely manner, no matter how many employees you have or where they’re working. Using the app, you can:

  • Notify employees by office location or by group when their office has reopened
  • Mark important points of interest, such as sanitization stations and new entrances and exits, so employees can easily find them on wayfinding maps
  • Share safety reminders that help employees protect themselves, such as reminding them of the rules for using common areas
  • Link to a return-to-work survey that asks employees how they feel about coming back to the office and what concerns they have
  • Let employees know about opportunities to safely socialize after work at small group gatherings or volunteer events

Employees can use the same app to find their colleagues, reserve desks or rooms, request service and receive deliveries or visitors. It’s a single point of contact that keeps them connected to their team and the office. It puts easy-to-use technology and information at their fingertips. And it allows you to communicate more efficiently and effectively so you don’t spend your entire day fielding the same questions.

Schedule your personalized Hummingbird demo to see how easy it is.


Rebecca Symmank

As a member of the Business Development team for iOFFICE, Rebecca is spirited and is quick to take initiative. Previously a customer and daily user of the IWMS provider, she has extensive experience on both the front and back end structure of the product. Rebecca's enthusiasm for facilities management and her tangible experience in the field give her an unprecedented understanding and perception of iOFFICE customers. Rebecca is able to relate to organizations implementing on IWMS, and has a unique perspective on what makes the experience a success.

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