Governments of most European states allow employers to return employees to their workplace and start “normal operations” while observing special sanitary rules. However, business leaders have a very hard time to get their employees back to offices and operations.
The level of fear or wary individual employees will feel varies very much across all levels of an organisation. It is re-enforced by the lack of evidence regarding the efficiency of protection against the pandemic. All measures and recommendations are based on assumptions and could be refuted or changed by the next news spread in any media. Employers risk loosing their authority over employees, when rules become a matter of individual interpretation.
After talking to different companies and business leaders, we would like to come up with a few recommendations:
Start with the courageous. In all levels of the organisation there are people, who are motivated to return to operations. It pays off to find out who they are and ask them to return and let them define security measures on the workplace.
Do not rely on scared managers to organize the return to the office. Find a volunteer with informal authority, who will take on the opportunity. And do not punish formal leaders disabled by fear.
Let employees express their problems or fear individually and treat them case per case: some of them are facing objective obstacles (childcare, transport etc.), but are willing to find solutions and return to a normal working mode as soon as possible.
Those who refuse to return to the office out of fear of infection will not be convinced by any sanitary measure you put in place: there is nothing like total protection possible in a work-place. But these people should stay isolated and not paralyse the organization : They will be either convinced after a few weeks or “fade away” by themselves.
Communicate openly about measures, the outlooks of your business and up-coming risks. This will legitimate your approach in the eyes of the employees and increase informal authority.
Business leaders have no police nor army to enforce measures, when even the current labour legislation seems suspended. They can, however, rely on team dynamics moving from formal to informal management and organization.