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August 6, 2020

L’Oréal’s Return-to-Office Hits Some Snags: How to Avoid HR and Communication Blunders as Companies Enter the Next Stage of Pandemic Plans


Calling all HR, PR and Internal Communications professionals…there’s got to be a better way.

Reading this CNN article about L’Oréal and their return-to-office efforts made my heart race. At a time when the stakes are so high for companies to help employees navigate through change and demonstrate leadership, this narrative feels like the company is missing huge opportunities for connection, engagement and growth that could be the silver lining of the pandemic.

If we could roll the clocks back to make better decisions that align with company values, here’s what we’d recommend:

1. Get HR, PR and Internal Communications leaders together to make these back-to-work decisions. Weigh the pros and cons and consider all the realities and optics at play. Ask yourself how employees will respond, what the impact on engagement, morale and even recruitment is. Consider how this will play out in media and social media. If you anticipate lots of downside and little upside, think again.

2. Be creative with solutions to common goals. In reading this, it felt like there were only two options. This kind of “either-or” thinking pushes people away from each other into separate camps, rather than being partners in a common goal.

3. Reflect what you learned. While no one chose the pandemic, many companies are taking positive lessons about new ways of working. We want to return to “normal,” but let’s also recognize benefits and incorporate them.

4. Listen to employees first before you finalize big decisions that impact them. Do a pulse check to know where your employees stand on return-to-work so you have the facts to make the best decisions. Their input can help lead to better solutions, which is a win-win. Not to mention you will have their buy-in to help make it work.

The number one thing employees want is flexibility, and that means understanding everyone’s individual situations to offer flexible options and solutions.

5. Foster an environment where employees know they can speak up openly with their team leaders, HR teams or Communications teams. Better to open the door for constructive conversations on the inside than to have employees race to the media and speak anonymously for fear of retribution.

6. When you are communicating big changes – like return-to-work plans – have a smart and thoughtful communication plan in place so employees understand what’s happening, the reasons behind the decisions and what it means for them. Give them an opportunity to process, ask questions, identify solutions, and get on board willingly.

7. Make sure you’re not losing critical ground. For as tough as the year has been, several silver linings have emerged from 2020. A few that come to mind are:

  • How fast and far many companies have gone to empower employees to be productive and effective working from home when they’re jobs allowed for it.
  • Seeing trust build between leaders and employees as they work in new ways and shift to more of a focus on outcomes rather than time spent in the office.
  • Watching leaders increase and improve their communications with their teams.

As companies come out of “pandemic mode,” one of my biggest fears is that they’ll take shortcuts that lose ground on these important gains and miss out on meeting employees where they are today. Watch that workplace decisions don’t revert to old ways of working that may not work as well now.

8. Call in the experts. When the house if burning down, you call the firefighters and let them do what they do best. Preparing the workforce for change at this stage of the pandemic is even more complex than when the world was shutting down because there are so many options and as many variables at play. Don’t go it alone. Getting counsel to help you plan and inform employees and key stakeholders is a sign of strength.

As the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” so don’t let a desire to get “back to normal” take you away from the many gains you’ve made these past months with your teams.

What can you do to prepare for an ounce of prevention?

David Grossman

Get strategies for motivating and engaging employees through a dramatically changing work environment along with stories of companies successfully managing through COVID-19 and other business challenges.

Click below to download your free copy of the eBook—12 Tips for Employers to Navigate the Future World of Work—today.

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