Reboarding? 7 tips to make employees feel welcome in the workplace

Prior to the lockdown, reboarding meant including employees in strategic changes. Reboarding after the lockdown primarily means including employees in the changes that are necessary for returning to work safely, healthily and enjoyably. How can you make employees feel warmly welcomed, despite the cold, impersonal social distancing rules?

A day will come when pressure on healthcare returns to normal levels and a return to the workplace becomes feasible. So what can top employers do to reboard their teleworkers? How do want your employees to experience their first day back at the office after lockdown? What experiences do you want to convey as an organisation?

Eric-Jan Pouw, Head of Customer Onboarding for the reboarding app, Appical: “Any employer who does not communicate the new rules of the game properly and promptly is unnecessarily endangering their employees. Employees must be prepared for the changes, so before the day they return to the office. You could already send them a video explaining the new rules, for instance. No more holding doors open for each other, only one person in an elevator at a time, how we need to greet each other…those sorts of things. The rules will be adjusted in the months ahead, so employers you must ensure that the relevant information is up-to-date and easy to find.”

Changes to the workplace are already in full swing: fewer desks, carpets creating 1.5 meter boundaries around desk chairs, walking paths, eating at your workstation, and touchless doors, faucets and soap dispensers.

But how can we ensure employees feel welcome? How can we ensure that the return to work doesn’t feel like one of those random, impersonal trips to the supermarket: rules, waiting, disinfection…? Here are some tips for a positive employee experience:

Tip 1: Organise an enduring reboarding moment

Organise a reboarding moment relatively quickly. Provide an experience that leaves a lasting impression: something very different than the usual, surprising, enjoyable, but also with space for worry and sorrow and (online) togetherness. An ‘event’ to remember, officially marking the end of the period of compulsory teleworking (or working in a coronavirus team); a moment that bolsters your organisation’s DNA and aligns with employee experience you want to convey as an employer.

Tip 2: Create new rituals

Rituals at work strengthen your organisational culture and DNA. Some rituals must now be adapted, however. How should we greet each other? Do we do the Pocahontas (palm outwards, waving from in front of the chest, up and to the right), the hand on the heart, the Wuhan-shake (tapping each other’s shoes), the namaste (palms together in front of the chest), the Star Trek greeting (a V-shape between the middle and ring fingers), the peace sign or simply nod our head?

And: how do we talk to each other if someone is not sticking to the new rules? Is there an easy way to call them out, something light-hearted, and which ensures that people dare to speak to one another when necessary?

Tip 3: Provide emotional space

For most people, much has changed over the past months ─ not only at work, but certainly also at home. At work, things have changed for the employees, their teams and the organisation: perhaps some colleagues will not return. Sharing stories and providing space for emotions strengthens a sense of togetherness at work. Space must be provided for this, and not only during the initial return to the office, but routinely thereafter.

Tip 4: Have individual reboarding conversations

Manager and employee will do well to have 1-to-1 reboarding conversations. How is the employee feeling? How do they look back on the past months? A recent Erasmus Happiness Economics Research Organisation (EHERO) study found that 11.4% of respondents were happier during the lockdown than previously. “These findings show that some people enjoyed the break from the daily grind. They felt less of the pressure that comes from commuting and social obligations. Some also saw it as a period for reflection,” says Indy Wijngaards, a happiness researcher. These are issues we should discuss with one another.

Questions for reboarding discussions:

·       How energetic and healthy are you feeling?

·       What did you miss and what not?

·       Who did you miss?

·       What are you worried about?

·       What did you appreciate about this organisation and what not?

·       What were you confronted by? What troubled you?

·       What did you learn about yourself over the past months?

Tip 5: Evaluate your practices

“Never let a good crisis go to waste,” Winston Churchill once said. Some of the new ways of working from home were much appreciated. Digitalisation certainly got a big boost.

Suddenly things that had dragged on for years were accomplished relatively quickly. People liked working from home in sweatpants and without makeup. We often got to know our colleagues much better online, seeing or rather ‘Zoom-ing’ in on their home offices, children, pets…. What as a team should we continue after the lockdown ends? And what practices must now cease, because nobody will miss them or they didn’t work or were annoying? And where should we start, because now we really must, because times have changed?

Tip 6: Keep teleworking negotiable

The biggest teleworking experiment in history will not cease. Nearly half of all employers want more teleworking. Have open discussions with one another about how to deal with this during the coming year. If the workplace is (partly) reopened, are employees also expected to show up? How much leeway should employees be given to decide this for themselves? What does this mean for formal conditions of employment?

Tip 7: Reprioritise

Some companies have seen their markets change or collapse overnight. For others, a depressed economy has changed their world. “The only way to predict the future is to shape it yourself,” said Peter Drucker, a renowned management guru. Objectives and performance targets must be reset and reprioritised. How was the organisation doing before, and what does this mean for the years ahead? Which products and services are we focusing on? And how is everyone contributing towards this? These are not only questions for the MT or HR department ─ they pertain to all employees. By working together to find solutions, you show that you take your employees seriously and genuinely value them. And that will certainly benefit the employee experience.

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