Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, much the US economy has been in a state of hibernation. As America has quarantined to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, hundreds of businesses, schools, parks, places of worship, and government buildings have closed their doors to the public.
But as we enter the month of May, things are beginning to change. States like Georgia have decided to reopen wide swaths of their economies, while stay at home orders in seven other states have expired. Differences aside, it's clear that, at some point, all fifty states will once again be open for business.
Officials have been careful to stress, however, that things may never return to what we considered "normal" in the pre-COVID-19 world. Workplaces will have to conform to new public health standards. California Governor Gavin Newsom announced in late April that business may be required to redraw their floorplans to preserve adequate social distancing.
When your employees begin to return to work in the next month or two, things will be vastly different from when they last came to work in mid-March.
We sat down with Amit Raizada, who has spent nearly 20 years as CEO of Spectrum Business Ventures, to gain some valuable insights on how to readjust your team to the workplace.
Raizada believes the most important trait employers can demonstrate during this tricky time is patience.
"Most of your employees haven't been in the office since early March," Raizada said. "While many initially struggled to develop an efficient 'work from home' routine, by now most of your employees are fully adjusted - and that's a double-edged sword."
Raizada said that returning to the office will be the second major disruption to their daily routines in just as many months.
"Society has asked workers to make significant structural changes to their daily lives to combat COVID-19, and just as they've started to get used to these new routines, things will once again be turned upside down," he said.
Raizada recommends giving employees the benefit of the doubt during their first few weeks back.
"Their lives have been turned upside down, and while we all want to get back to work, we can't just pretend like nothing happened," he said. "Many have faced economic hardship and some may have even lost loved ones. See this as a time to demonstrate benevolent leadership to your staff."
Transitioning from working in an office building to a living room in the span of just a few days forced teams to figure out how to be nimble and flexible. Companies had to adapt on the fly, developing new procedures and techniques remotely. Raizada said that it is imperative not to let that innovation go to waste.
"Your entire team figured out how to do something new - to take their office home - with the flip of a switch," Raizada said. "That's no small feat. As your team starts to return to the office, think about ways you can parlay that ingenuity into your business model. If your team can adapt on the fly for a pandemic, surely it can do the same for a client."
In many ways, this also helps offices prepare for the unknown, Raizada said.
"Doctors and health officials are warning that there could be a second wave of COVID-19 infections this upcoming fall or winter," Raizada said. "Just like in March, there's a very real possibility your team could once again have to transition to remote work in the span of a few days. Don't let the lessons you learned the first time around go to waste."