Returning to Work?

Employers in England are being encouraged to reopen their workplaces to staff who cannot work from home, while those in other parts of the UK are likely to be making plans ahead of similar moves. The guidelines are changing on a weekly basis, but here are eight challenges that have been identified by XpertHR, that you might need to consider, regarding bringing your staff back and keeping them all safe.

1. Transport Plans

Some people are reluctant to travel on public transport. Could you implement a rota so that employees can drive in on a rota system? Can you encourage those employees who can walk or cycle to work to return first? This needs to voluntary, so speak to your individual members of staff about how and if they can safely get to work.

2. Health and Safety

Talk of heightened health and safety measures in the workplace is widespread and concerns cover a number of areas including the practicalities of some of the measures that will be required; employee confidence in the practices adopted; the ability of their organisation to monitor the safety measures; and employee adherence. All issues for you to consider.

Do you have the space to implement the required social distancing protocols? You could split each department and rotate from working two weeks at home and two weeks at the offices. You might need to reduce the size of teams who are allowed to come into work on the same day, if your space is small. Or you could consider staggered return times and build up gradually.

3. Preparing Employees for the Return to Work

There is work to be done around reintegrating furloughed workers and those who have been working from home back into your workplace. You also need to make sure that you prepare your employees. Here are some suggestions:

  • Communicate with your employees about returning, to gauge feelings and concerns and deal with these prior to lockdown restrictions being lifted.
  • There could be reluctance from some staff – furloughed or working from home – to resume normal working practices. Communicate all measures taken to ensure employee safety and work around issues like use of public transport and childcare as best you can and address issues as presented by individuals.

4. Settling Back into Work

For many employees, the workplace won’t look or feel the same as the one they left several months ago. You might struggle with employee engagement about the reality of the situation, with reduced wages and benefits. You might be expecting a downturn in business, or to have to make redundancies. Balancing commercial reality with retaining employment will be a challenge and maintaining employee engagement will be essential, as decisions are made about the future of the business.

You might want and need, to get up to full working capacity as quickly as possible as your premises reopen. Inevitably, you will have to find new ways to make things work. Think about how to evolve your business to maintain social distancing with your customers/visitors and still make enough revenue.

One widely anticipated change is a shift to more homeworking than there was before the pandemic. This could be worth your consideration, perhaps trialling homeworking on a more permanent basis.

Finding the right working pattern for your business and employee alike could be a challenge. How will you manage future flexible working measures, now most people have proved their role can be done from home, while still maintaining a sense of team/culture and encouraging innovation?

5. Employee Mental Health

Looking after employees’ mental health and wellbeing has been a challenge since the coronavirus outbreak started, and it could be an ongoing one, particularly around managing employees’ anxieties about going back to the workplace.

Throughout the pandemic businesses have put in place a host of initiatives to help employees look after their mental health, from access to an employee assistance programme to online resources. Make sure that you continue looking after your employees’ mental health via reassurance through safety measures and good communications on a personal level.

6. Annual Leave

An amendment to the Working Time Regulations 1998 means that workers can carry over up to four weeks’ annual leave into the next two holiday years, where it has not been reasonably practicable for them to take it as a result of the effects of coronavirus.

Managing annual leave requests includes ensuring that staff are taking a break. Employees might be reluctant to take holiday, and holiday uptake and insisting on rest periods might not be welcomed by employees as they have nowhere to go. Having employees with accrued leave and trying to manage work schedules around this could be an issue for you, going forwards.

7. Managing Individual Cases

Inevitably, there will be a handful of individuals whose circumstances have to be looked at on a case-by-case basis. Most businesses are happy for those who are shielding, or have caring responsibilities to continue to work from home. Be aware of employees self-diagnosing the need to shield in order to avoid the workplace, or those who do not feel safe to return to work, but who are not medically vulnerable or living with someone who is vulnerable. You should be able to overcome this through effective communication, explaining what has been done to support and maintain the safety of your employees.

8. Adapting to the New Normal

The ‘new normal’ is a phrase we’re becoming familiar with, but not all organisations are certain of what this will look like. Many envisage that the workplace won’t go back to how it was before; your main HR challenge could be adjusting to the new normal of working in an office. You might embrace a new-found flexibility in your workforce and welcome employees working from home more often. Or you could be concerned about the loss of workplace culture and interaction, fearing a workplace exodus that you would rather avoid.

There is a lot to consider, as you plan for your employees to return to work. Take the time to carefully think through all the options, from a safety point of view, as well as from the points of view of your business and your employees. Keep lines of communication open and be prepared to have proper discussions with everyone involved. Working together as a team will be vital for the future success of your business.

As the situation is changing all the time, please do get in touch if you have any questions about what would be best for your employees and your business. Call me on 0118 940 3032 or click here to email me.