Internal Communications

Bringing your team back into the fold

Lindsay Wright, director of Link Engagement, offers tips on re-engaging with a furloughed workforce

When the Government introduced the Furlough scheme in March, businesses up and down the country breathed a sigh of relief as it was the lifeline they needed to help keep themselves afloat during the COVID crisis. Today, more than 12 weeks later, we’re starting to see lockdown restrictions lifted. If you’ve furloughed staff in your business, it’s likely that you’re now starting to plan for how and when you bring them back and what that might look like. This won’t be as straightforward as you might think. After a significant number of weeks, effectively on paid leave, your employees can’t simply be expected to turn the laptop back on and away they go…

Here are my five top tips for bringing your team back together again after furlough. These all have one thing in common: GOOD COMMUNICATIONS. As a manager, how you talk to your team and what you say are crucial. Be authentic, be genuine, be kind, be honest and, in the words of Oscar Wilde, Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.

1. It’s good to talk

It sounds simple but it’s so important to talk to each of your employees individually as part of their ‘Return to Work’ programme. You should treat this almost as you would an extended leave of absence. Schedule a conversation specifically to find out how are they feeling about coming back into the business, what are they worried about and what would they like to know before they return. Share your plans for their return allowing time for their reflection. Discuss their future role, any proposed changes to working hours and responsibilities. Crucially, make sure you take time to understand their circumstances, they may have been home schooling children, may have a partner who is a key worker, they may have dependent relatives or neighbours, all of which could affect their return to work. Have an honest conversation about your expectations of them and together, work through a realistic solution. Show you care about them and their world.

2. Celebrate and share successes and business updates

Coming back into a business or a team after a significant period of absence can feel daunting and it’s possible lots will have changed while they have been away. This can create that ‘First day’ feeling which can be nerve-wracking. You can’t guarantee they will have read and absorbed all the communication you have previously shared so make sure you share recent business updates, relevant staffing changes, business and team successes. Demonstrate that their personal contribution is valued and let them know you’re looking forward to their return.

3. Look forward with them

While away from the business, it’s likely your employees will have been worrying and thinking about their future. They may have been worried about whether or not they have a role to come back to and it’s also possible they will have been thinking about their own career path and whether the role they have is actually one they want. Make time to discuss their career path and give any reassurances you are able to about their role in the business. Use this moment to talk about upcoming projects and timelines so they understand the role they play in the businesses future.

4. Do some fun things as a team

Bring the team together for some creative team building activities to get everyone used to working together again and to inject some fun into the team. This is also a great opportunity to introduce new team members if there has been any restructuring. Some of the ideas I’ve seen in the last few weeks are quizzes, team training, live ‘Bake-off’, escape rooms, team lunch, movie nights, coffee morning, house tours, bring your pet to work and many more. Doing something light-hearted for all the team where people can chat, laugh and not talk about work is really important. It re-ignites team spirit and provides some much needed banter when people are working on their own at home.

5. Re-visit action plans & priorities

Now is the time to re-visit your team and individual action plans, goals, objectives and KPIs for the months ahead, and perhaps rest of the year. Key to helping someone re-join the business is clarity of their role and a clear, mutual understanding of responsibilities, actions and deadlines. This is an opportunity for you to collaboratively adjust and amend their goals for the current environment. Here, you should also discuss with them, and the wider team, about any adjustments to ways of working, given you’re likely to still be working virtually. Doing this together will help your employees feel engaged and motivated about their future and will help them adjust their mindset back to the world of work. Hopefully, they will also be excited and energised about returning.

If you take the time to speak to your team individually, listen to their concerns and co-create your collective future, you have every chance of being the high performing team you strive to be.