Reboarding the frontline workforce is one of the most important parts of any business restoration plan. Employees will return to a very different workplace than the one they left weeks or months ago. You will ask them to do their jobs—jobs they’ve done the same way for years, in many cases—very differently. You will also ask them to balance their personal safety with the need/desire to work to support themselves and their families. However, while onboarding is an established process, most companies don’t have a reboarding plan.
How can you bring your frontline employees back to work safely and efficiently?
Here are 9 steps companies in heavily disrupted industries, such as retail, food service and hospitality, are applying to reboard their frontline workforces.
1. Get aligned on your reopening plan
Reboarding will be driven by a group of stakeholders, including Ops, HR or L&D. Everyone must be on the same page when it comes to the company’s overall operations strategy. Otherwise, you won’t know how to integrate your frontline workforce into the big picture. Ask your partners for critical strategy details, including:
- When do we plan to reopen?
- Will we reopen all at once or will it take place in phases based location/region/country?
- What parts of our operation will reopen immediately? What parts may be delayed or remain shut down?
- What will our customer experience look like when we reopen?
- How will our product and service offerings change over the short and long term?
2. Identify critical frontline job changes
Once you understand how your business will operate over the short term, you must determine how these changes will impact frontline job performance. Specifically, how will frontline employees be expected to change their on-the-job behaviors based on the current operating environment. For example:
- Will employees be required to wear masks and/or gloves?
- Will employees be required to sanitize high-contact surfaces, including PIN pads and countertops, between transactions?
- How will employees be expected to engage with customers while maintaining physical distance and limiting touch points?
Avoid the temptation to stay high level with this information. Break new employee expectations down to specific, measurable job behaviors. You will need this information to build training, resources and communications that can enable and sustain real-world behavior change.
3. Prepare a rapid onboarding plan
Reboarding focuses on the needs of your existing frontline employees who have been inactive for an extended period. However, when it’s time to reopen, you may not have access to your entire staff. Some may have moved on to new jobs or be unwilling/unable to return to work. Therefore, you must also be prepared to rapidly onboard new employees to close staffing gaps.
You probably already have an onboarding plan. However, it will require adjustments to fit your current business needs.
- First, you must consider how onboarding can be executed in the current workplace environment. For example, you may not be permitted to teach in classroom settings.
- Second, your onboarding plan must balance speed and safety. You need to get employees into the operation quickly to support your reopening, but you must also ensure they know how to do their jobs safely and productively. Get rid of any fluff or extra topics in your current onboarding program, and focus on just critical job knowledge and skills.
- Finally, you must adapt your training to include the new job behaviors you identify as part of your reboarding plan.
4. Build right-fit training and resources
Build just what you need to execute your reboarding strategy. Your employees will not have time for training that takes days or weeks to complete. Likewise, your team will not have weeks or months to build lengthy online courses and job training programs. Instead, focus on just essential employee behaviors and design solutions to help the frontline quickly (and safely) develop critical on-the-job habits.
Your reboarding solution should include components such as:
- Job training checklists. Managers and trainers will use these guides to ensure consistent and comprehensive on-the-job training for every employee.
- Assessments. Knowledge and skill assessments will ensure employees are able to meet new requirements in the real world, not just complete the training.
- On-demand resources. Employees will need access to performance support on-demand so they can get help solving problems as they come up on the job.
- Reinforcement activities. Employees are likely to forget new information or slip into old habits due to the speed of change. Using 2 or 3 minutes every shift for targeted practice activities will make sure new learning sticks and new habits form.
- Coaching tools. Frontline managers will play a critical role in reinforcing the right job behaviors through continued observation and coaching. They may need their own training and resources as well as actionable data to proactively identify and close frontline performance gaps.
5. Start frontline reboarding early
Don’t wait for your employees to get back into your workplace. Kickstart your reboarding process before they fully return to work. After all, you want people to be prepared for the changes they will encounter. Plus, you may be reboarding groups of employees in phases based on location.
Leverage personal devices to provide digital communication, training and resources to employees while they’re still at home. Have a backup plan for employees who may not own a smartphone or computer. By starting your reboarding process early, your employees will be ready for hands-on training as soon as they walk through the door. This will also help you get managers and trainers ready for the roles they’ll play in the reboarding process.
6. Implement focused job training
Focus job training on topics that will help your frontline employees do their jobs safely and productively. Provide trainers with clear instructions and comprehensive checklists to make sure they cover topics safely and efficiently. Use digital training to introduce new topics consistently and cover essential regulatory requirements. Conduct practical assessments to make sure people really know how to do their jobs based on new expectations.
7. Continue to communicate
People may be back on the job, but the changes are likely to continue. Establish consistent communication channels for your frontline. A solid frontline communication plan includes considerations such as:
- Partner across your business with other teams who will need to communicate consistently with frontline staff.
- Prioritize ruthlessly. Everything can’t be important at the same time. Otherwise, it becomes noise, and people will ignore your messages.
- Feature messages from your executive team members, who can show the organization has a clear direction and the needs of their employees are top of mind.
- Avoid leaning on unreliable practices, such as information cascades and bulletin board postings.
- Use digital tools to ensure timely and consistent communication.
- Provide a simple go-to spot for on-demand information.
8. Reinforce critical behaviors
People will not change the way they behave just because you tell them to. That’s just human nature. This is especially true when someone has been doing things a certain way for a long time. To make the learning stick, you have to provide opportunities for reinforcement.
Reinforcement can come in a variety of forms, including:
- Introduce daily training by asking employees 2 or 3 scenario-based questions at the start of each shift.
- Supply guided practice activities employees can complete by themselves or with a peer.
- Provide managers with coaching recommendations to support critical job changes.
9. Measure impact
It’s more important than ever to know if your learning solutions are having the intended impact. Your reboarding plan must have clear, measurable outcomes. This may include a variety of metrics, like health and safety, compliance and customer satisfaction. You may not have time to rethink your approach to learning measurement, but you can quickly introduce meaningful metrics to your reboarding plan.
- Partner with business stakeholders to track changes in business metrics that are influenced by frontline performance.
- Track how many communications you’re deploying to your frontline and how quickly they are being read/acknowledged.
- Measure knowledge changes in critical topics through ongoing reinforcement activities.
- Provide managers with observation guides they can use to track and coach to changes in essential job behaviors.
Reboarding will be a unique process for every company. Macy’s and Apple are planning to reopen locations this month. Retail stores under 8,600 square feet are already permitted to open in Germany. And The Retail Leaders Association released a “Blueprint for Shopping Safe” with recommended protocols to help companies return safely and efficiently. Industry, region, regulation and public health will all play a factor in your company’s restoration strategy.
It may be next week. Or it may be next month. Regardless of when your business begins to find the next normal, you must be ready to reboard your frontline. We’ve all been learning on the fly over the past few months. But you can’t afford to make a mistake by reopening your business without a plan. You’ll need the right components in place so your frontline employees can return to work safely, productively and, most important of all, confidently.
Reboarding will be crucial in the coming weeks and months. But it’s important to keep in mind that it should be part of a larger plan to build a resilient frontline workforce. On that note, we’ve built three playlists made up of short videos to explore what that plan looks like moving forward. Each playlist focuses on a different theme—from preparing your employees for The Next Normal to readying your workforce for The Return to enabling your employees to handle The Shift in roles.
Visit your blueprint for building a resilient frontline workforce to learn more about each topic and watch the playlist (or playlists) that’s right for you!
Be safe. Be well. And be kind to the frontline.