How to strategically re-board your workforce

Humans are social beings

How to strategically re-board your workforce

Crossing the street or stepping backward when you encounter another person has already become a habit; a routine elbow bump, instead of a handshake. 

And that is definitely what is needed during a health crisis.  But, when the time is right, as a society we must bounce back to social connectivity to prevent productivity and relationships forever damaged. 

Humans are social beings.  Sure, we have varying levels of desire for social interaction-some of us want to spend time alone while others are more inclined to want to hang out in groups.  But in one form or another, we all strive for connection with one another.

The physical distancing and forced isolation was a shock to our social system.  While it is helping the health emergency, in the long-run, it will hinder companies’ efforts to ramp up productivity. 

In the late 1970s, I remember the big three automotive companies launched a “Quality of Work Life” workshop to rebuild trust between employees and their superiors after an economic downturn resulting in layoffs.  The big three knew ramping up productivity would only happen with repaired relationships.

Whether furloughed or simply physically apart for weeks, we need to figure out how to come back together.  Consider this question for yourself: “How can I re-board my employees?”

Let’s consider how to safely re-board a powered watercraft.  While in the water, you first ensure the watercraft is right side up and the engine off.  Then, swim to the back of the watercraft, step on to the re-boarding step, and grab the bar on the back of the seat to pull yourself onto the rear deck.

This analogy of a watercraft is about giving your employees something to grab onto, a sense of “us” socializing and re-establishing communications between them and the organization.  A way to pull them in safely before revving up the engine.    

Upon re-boarding, don’t sit your employee’s in-front of a computer or large screen; they’ve watched enough TV in their quarantine, their self-isolation.  Re-boarding requires human connection, not digital distancing. 

As many of us know- either from firsthand experience or anecdotally-during the pandemic our children asked to go back to school, not because they missed the homework, but because they missed each other.   

Re-boarding requires human connection, not digital distancing.  Talent is smart enough to know when “authentic human connection” is not happening.  There is a time for L & D technologies, not in this re-boarding crisis.

The time for re-boarding is on the horizon and will be here before you know it.  As we prepare to welcome workforce back to work, they will need to become re-acclimated to the facility and each other. 

Re-boarding is not on-boarding to include interviews, references and background checks.  It is about re-connecting your employees under new business practices.  Your effort to re-board will resurge productivity, even at higher levels than before COVID-19, working our way back to giving “high-fives”.

Re-boarding is about your workforce learning new business practices, a revised set of rules and guidelines for interaction with people, equipment, and space.  

An example of a new business practice is described by one of my HR colleagues: “I interviewed with a local company a couple days ago and it was very strange.  Upon arrival for my appointment, I found the entrance locked.  An employee opened the door maintaining the social distancing protocol, and then I was asked certain questions concerning exposure to COVID-19 and required to sign a form to that effect with a sanitized pin for me to use.  I completed an application and watched a video prior to the actual interview. It was so different from what we are accustomed to but given the current circumstances, it’s very understandable. The company is conducting business in a manner to best protect their employees and visitors from possible exposure.”

Factory workforce cannot operate a machine from home or over the internet; they must interact with machine and people.  As they come back to work, mingling should be safe and secure with proper hygiene etiquette about coughing, sneezing and handwashing.

Consider the following re-boarding suggestions:

Schedule an opportunity to reconnect.  Coming back to work is not going to be business as usual; as if we just hit pause and are going to re-start exactly where we were.  People need time to catch up, to share what happened to them during the crisis.  The first day back, ask them to share their personal thoughts and feelings about their experience.

Debrief your employees.  Provide them a workshop to clarity plans going forward about any job changes, tasks or deadlines.  This is also where you can determine any confusion about accountability. 

Adapt changes in work.  Ask your employees what they missed about work during the crisis; and what they did not miss.  Figure out how to do more of the missed things.  And decide if the thing missed have to happen.  It is a great time to shed old, outdated, not productive practices and build on the things that engage your employees.

Reinforce company culture.  During the crisis, the company culture may have been relaxed while people were doing their best to keep things afloat.  Now that employees are in the office, they need to be re-introduced to company culture and introduced to new business practices.

Just as the proper procedure allows individuals to safely re-board powered watercraft, so too will a solid re-boarding plan for workforce allow us to return to work with trust, and with full productivity and engagement.  This will allow us to respect differences and look for opportunities to be more creative and innovative; recognizing common goals and ways to accomplish those goals together. 

Develop a re-boarding plan for your workforce.

Author: Carrie Van Daele is president and CEO of Van Daele & Associates @ [Train the Trainer System] and [Leadership Development].  She also is the author of 50 One-Minute Tips for Trainers, published by LogicalOperations, and several magazine articles about workforce.

Co-Author: Brian Dumford is Training Associate of Van Daele & Associates @ and  He has managed human resources functions in government and manufacturing in durable goods and food; medical device and transportation industries.

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