Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic has proved to be the biggest challenge of 2020. Organisations must plan for returning to the office after COVID-19 in a way that cares for their people and safeguards their health and wellbeing.
To keep operations moving forward while keeping staff safe and motivated, most companies have adapted to new ways of working, such as introducing an agile working policy or supporting their staff with working from home. Now is the time to consider how and when to start the complex task of returning to the office after COVID-19, once government restrictions have lifted. In this article, we explore the key points to consider, from safeguarding the health and wellbeing of your staff, to adopting new working practices.
Putting safety first
The health and safety of the workforce should, of course, be management’s top priority when planning returning to the office. The safeguarding of all staff’s wellbeing is fundamental, as this will be the key to all companies success following a relaxing of the pandemic restrictions.
Interestingly, a recent survey from PwC shows that only one in five chief financial officers believed their companies could resume “business as usual” within a month if the crisis ended today.
It is likely that new protocols will be required for employees when returning to the office. This could mean introducing a one way system, reduced contact points, new guidelines around use of the kitchen or toilet facilities. It could also mean a different approach to meetings (keeping meetings online while in the office), and managing visitors.
It could also mean changes to the layout of the workspace, such as moving workstations farther apart or changing employee schedules. For example, introducing a rota system, to reduce the number of people in buildings at one time.
To support this, you may want to install signs and posters around the office to inform and remind staff of the new systems in place.
You may also wish to consider establishing guidelines for the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). Another consideration is checking staff and visitors for fever before entering the workplace. You will need to follow government guidelines on how long you should self-isolate for (after coming into contact with the virus), and when to return to work after recovering from infection.
Who should be returning to the office, and when?
Returning to the workplace could mean:
- Recalling furloughed employees;
- Transitioning away from remote working in line with government guidelines;
- Or moving into a brand new way of working.
The focus will be on determining who should be going back into the office. Some roles undoubtedly rely on technology or tools in the workplace. However, an analysis of roles that have transitioned smoothly to remote working, and those which didn’t, will provide helpful information on who to prioritise returning to work.
How can we support our staff to manage this change?
With all the change and challenges people have been through over the past year, leading with empathy and ‘person-first’ is vital for employee buy-in and returning back to a ‘new normal’.
Demonstrating understanding that every individual has had a different experience of the crisis is critical. Some employees may have an increased risk of a serious COVID-19 infection and reluctant returning to the office. Others may be eager to leave remote work behind, but have caregiving responsibilities that make it difficult to do so. Sensitivity to these individual challenges is fundamentally important.
Managing change during and after COVID-19
Likewise, it is essential to recognise that staff will need time to adapt to the new ways of working post COVID-19. Employees may be coming back to work after an extended furlough or period of remote work to huge change. It’s important to communicate what’s being asked of employees and what steps you are taking to keep them safe.
Re-acclimating to the office, along with making sure staff know what to expect and what’s expected of them when returning to the workplace, will be an enormous challenge for senior management. A clear communication strategy, as well as to embrace a shared vision of what comes next, will be essential to the success of the changes.
Providing employees with a feedback system to raise their concerns and encouraging two-way communication between management and their teams, will help identify problems with the plans. Furthermore, this will ensure your staff feel heard and valued during the process. With this, companies may turn the COVID-19 crisis into an opportunity to strengthen the organisations culture and values. Moreover, increase employee engagement and boost productivity and loyalty into the future.
How we can help
To support our customers and their staff, we have developed a suite of new e-learning courses. This is to address the unique challenges and a new way of working that has come out of COVID-19. These include key areas such as:
- Working safely and securely from home
- Information Security and Data Protection compliance
- Managing teams remotely
- Dynamic Working
Our training is fully customisable and includes interactive examples, case studies and guidance on policies to help your staff stay alert, informed and safe. Our range of courses in response to COVID-19 include:
- Return to work training, to inform and alert staff of safe practices and new policies following government guidelines.
- Working safely and securely from home.
- Remote onboarding and induction programmes.
Get in touch
Further information and resources