How to reinvigorate a team post-lockdown

The message from Richard Vann in the latest copy of Demolition and Recycling International is that you can reinvigorate a team post-lockdown, but it must be done with three key factors in mind – respect, care and caution.

If you’ve not had chance to read the recent edition, you can catch up here…

The potential psychological impact of COVID-19 has been widely documented. With many people struggling with the effects of social isolation, fears over job security, anxieties surrounding the potential ill health of themselves or loved ones, not to mention the significant general disruption to everyday life, mental health is in severe jeopardy.

Encouraging colleagues back to work, post-lockdown, must therefore be done with respect, care and caution.

As is often the case, attitudes, coping mechanisms and resilience levels will vary from one individual to the next. Some people are extremely keen to return to ‘normal’, others are extremely wary of the very thought, and there will be those occupying the ‘middle ground’ – they may be comfortable with the idea of coming back, providing they are confident that necessary safety precautions have been rigorously considered and implemented. And rightly so.

Likewise, there will be those keen to rebuild a sense of routine back into their working life, others who may have slightly reshaped their idea of a work-life balance, and some who have picked up very bad habits since the onset of the pandemic.

Some people will have been ‘absent’ from the demolition landscape for only a matter of days. If a project was considered business critical, for example, schedules may have encountered minor pauses at most – simply to facilitate a readjustment to on-site practices that accommodated the Government’s social distancing guidelines. At the other end of the spectrum, it’s possible that others haven’t been near a live site – or workplace of any sort – since the beginning of spring.

All of this – and more – presents business leaders with fresh challenges when it comes to the safe, compliant, ethical and effective management of their teams.

But to re-engage employees, post-lockdown, we perhaps need to stick to the basics.

Remembering our duty of care

Upholding our duty of care to colleagues – whether they’re operating on an inherently hazardous live demolition site, or in a comparatively safe office environment – is something we do as standard. So, while the risks we face now look a little different when compared to our world pre-lockdown, anticipating and taking steps to minimise these risks, is a process we should all feel familiar with.

The implementation of on-site social distancing and hygiene regimes is crucial in this respect, as colleagues won’t feel comfortable in the ‘workplace’ if their basic needs are not met. For example, only two people may be permitted to use a site cabin at any one time; PPE requirements may now stipulate that face masks are compulsory; and general personal cleanliness levels may need to be redefined.

Certain processes may require a complete overhaul, whereas others may benefit from minor adjustments. An excavator operator who works alone in their own cab, for instance, may simply need to wipe down their space at the end of the day.

Communication is key

Talking to colleagues about all of this is crucial. But again, communication is nothing new.

Some team leaders may choose to send formal written dialogue prior to colleagues’ return to work, re-induction briefings may be helpful when teams first arrive back on site, site signage will provide continued reminders as to how to stay safe, and post-lockdown protocol may even involve the completion of health questionnaires or medical reviews to assess the suitability of employees’ workplace presence.

Leaders must think carefully about which communication methods work best for their organisation – and also consider what may resonate with certain employees and not others.

Compliance is only the baseline

As I’ve said many times, regulatory compliance should set only the minimum standard. We shouldn’t just consider Government guidelines but also what is fair.

For example, a proportion of a demolition project’s schedule can be progressed remotely, from the safety of an individual’s home. So, leaders who have previously chosen not to offer home working may now encounter push backs from employees keen to maintain some of their newfound flexibility. There are commercial, environmental and safety advantages to reduced travel of course, so this should be considered where possible.

A complete shift to remote working will naturally be impossible for most demolition firms, so employees need to be prepared to be flexible too. Sometimes a client meeting is far better delivered in person, providing it is safe to do so, and likewise cultural dynamics often benefit from a team gathering in the same place, rather than relying on the limited cues that can be conveyed via video.

Many demolition specialists undertake overseas work too, which presents additional challenges for employers. And of course, employees’ individual circumstances need to be accommodated, not to mention a country’s point-in-time COVID risk status. But, providing all scientific advice and safety protocols have been heeded, businesses must keep going if they’re to ensure their long-term survival.

Top tips for demolition leaders:

  1. Agree expectations so everyone is clear of their role – with reminders of responsibilities where necessary – to help refocus the team.
  2. Make savvy use of technology to uphold face-to-face contact from a distance, and remain accessible should colleagues have questions at any time.
  3. Keep talking. Robust lines of communication are key to engagement, but ensure COVID-19 isn’t the only subject covered. Explore professional development topics, project updates, pipelines and more.
  4. Remember everyone is different. Some people may return feeling extremely alert and at the top of their game. Others will have been extremely sedentary since March with little to stimulate their minds. They may even need an EHS refresh. Treat people as individuals and proactively monitor performance, engagement and wellbeing levels.
  5. See this as the chance to improve. Clichés aside, there are learnings to be had from COVID-19, so don’t necessarily strive to get back to the ‘normal’ you’ve always known, if there’s the opportunity to be better.