Training the team to return to work

Jun 10, 2020

How can you best prepare for a phased return to work? Anne Phillipson outlines the five stages businesses need to take to ensure the safety of their employees and clients.

The past 100-days have been unlike anything most of us have experienced in our working lives. Thankfully, we are beginning to see light at the end of this tunnel and, although the virus is still with us, it seems the efforts of the public have kept it under control. This is good news for the economy, as many businesses begin to prepare for the return to work, and aim to make up for lost productivity.

However, as most business leaders have already realised, it is much easier to shut an office down than to reopen it under these conditions. The key for a successful return to work is through careful planning, clear communication, and staff training.

Five stages to return to work

All businesses must be able to implement measures that minimise the risk to their staff and customers, and put safety at the top of the agenda. People will be apprehensive as they emerge from lockdown, and will want to know that they can return to work safely. It is the employers’ job to not only care for their employee’s physical safely, but also create psychological safety by reassuring and informing staff that precautions are in place with their well-being in mind, and that new standards and procedures are being implemented and followed.

It is important that business leaders don’t simply focus on the next few weeks – we are going to have to live with this virus for some time, and strategies that go beyond the immediate return-to-work and look to long-term change will allow businesses to realise the opportunity to build back better.

The process should happen in five stages:

  1. Anticipation – the planning begins
  2. Honeymoon – people are excited to return to some sense of normality
  3. Integration – the new practices are tested and begin to embed
  4. Performance – focus is back on the business and distractions are minimised
  5. Growth – opportunity to realise the benefits of new ways of working


Right now, we are in the anticipation stage. Within this stage, there are three critical steps:

Preparation: plan for reopening and specific requirements for each location. An employee survey will provide useful insights into how your employees travel to work, the distance of their commute, health issues of the employee or anyone in their household, social distancing planning of workspaces, which functions can remain remote, etc.

Execution: ensure that employees and customers understand and comply with new practices. Steps here include a COVID-19 health questionnaire, return to work online training to educate employees on what to expect on their return, identify and train ‘social distancing marshals’ for each location, etc.

Reopening: continuously review and improve processes during the phased return to the office. Employee/client access by location, ensuring adherence to guidelines, and ongoing communication and engagement of staff will be important in this step.

Putting yourself in your employees’ shoes – understanding how they’re feeling, the messages and training they need at each stage – will go a long way to ensure your return to work strategy decreases your employees concerns while increasing your productivity and potential.

Anne Phillipson is a Director of People and Change Consulting in Grant Thornton.