Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic has proved to be the biggest challenge of 2020 and, given the most recent government announcements, no doubt into 2021.
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. Although it still feels far away from returning to some form of ‘normal’, now is the time to consider how and when to start the complex task of returning to the workplace once government restrictions have lifted.
Central to this, employers must plan for any return to the workplace in a way that cares for their people and safeguards their health and wellbeing.
In this article, we explore key points to consider when facilitating a return to the workplace, in line with COVID-secure workplace guidance when working from home is not possible.
Putting safety first
The health and safety of the workforce should, of course, be management’s top priority as it considers how to return to the office and bring operations back to some resemblance of normal. 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 to return to the office. This could mean introducing a one way system, reduced contact points, new guidelines around use of the kitchen or toilet facilities, a different approach to meetings (for example keeping meetings online even 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), such as face masks and gloves. Another consideration is checking staff and visitors for fever before entering the workplace and following government guidelines on how long you should self-isolate for when coming into contact with the virus, or when to return to work after recovering from infection.
Who should be returning to work, 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 conditions that increase their risk of serious COVID-19 infection and may be reluctant to return to the office. Others may be eager to leave remote work behind, but have caregiving responsibilities that make it difficult or impossible for them to do so. Sensitivity to these individual challenges is a must.
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. To help your staff navigate these changes, it is important to support employees with what’s being asked of them and what steps the organisation is taking to keep them safe and secure.
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 to help staff with this, as well as to embrace a shared vision of what comes next, will be invaluable to the success of the changes.
Providing employees with a platform to raise their concerns and encouraging two-way communication between management and their teams, will help with identifying potential problems with the return to work plans, as well as ensuring 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, 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 to address the unique challenges and a new way of working that has come out of COVID-19. These include key areas such as safeguarding wellbeing, working safely and securely from home, data security, GDPR compliance, using work equipment at home, secure networks and DSE.
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
If you have any questions or would like guidance on training and supporting your staff while working from home, please get in touch. You can contact us via our contact form, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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