With Boris Johnson pledging to give us his government’s latest thinking on ‘life after lockdown’ by the end of the week, now is the time for business leaders to plan and implement changes necessary to protect staff and reduce the risk of a second spike of Covid-19. Here, our Strategic and Business HR Associate Karen Knight shares with you the critical issues that you will need to consider to help you to get your staff back to work and develop a ‘new normal’ framework for keeping them healthy during the coming months.
Returning to Work – Reducing the Risk
How you manage a return to work will depend on the degree of closure during the pandemic, but there will be some common themes:
There will be a requirement for some form of social distancing for some time to come. You will need to review your workplace and consider the following:
- Can staff maintain a 2m physical / safe distance between each other?
- How will you manage meetings, interviews and other interactions?
- How will you manage communal areas: kitchens, canteens, toilets?
Some solutions may include:
- All staff who can work from home will be expected to carry on doing so for a period of time as lockdown restrictions will be lifted gradually. This should apply particularly to those employees classed as vulnerable or living with vulnerable family members. Also consider those with children who may not yet be back at school.
- Phased return by groups of employees or by teams should be considered.
- Trial a move to a smaller set of core hours so you can manage meetings and interactions while still offering flexibility for employees.
- Stagger working hours so not all staff are in at the same time
- Use technology to enhance the working-from-home experience, Zoom, Teams, for example
- Manage the flow of people to avoid congregations – in one door, out of another, one person only in the kitchen at one time
- Revise seating plans
- Limit time spent in conference rooms
As certain teams or parts of the business return, to work detailed risk management will be necessary to safeguard health and minimise the risk of infection:
- Work in close collaboration with your health and safety teams wherever possible.
- Communicate to staff on a regular basis the practical measures you are taking to help reassure them that their health, well-being and safety is your top priority.
- Make sure employees are clear about what procedure they should follow if they begin to feel unwell, both in the workplace and at home.
Key protection and hygiene measures will continue to apply to minimise the spread of infection:
- Remind staff about regular and effective handwashing
- Continue to provide hand sanitiser
- Carry out a deep-clean before you reopen the workplace
- Ensure all phones/keyboards/kettles/door handles etc. are wiped daily with anti-viral cleaner.
- Ask people to make their own coffee’s only and clean down the work surfaces and kettles after use – one person only in the kitchen at a time
- No hot desking or sharing desks
- Depending on your working environment you may need to consider providing additional PPE, including gloves and masks – if so training/briefing staff on their correct usage will be important.
Are we all sitting comfortably?
Perceptions of safety are as important as the actual level of safety being provided in making sure staff feel comfortable returning to work:
- Adjust sickness policies to ensure rapid responses where required
- Clear communication around the H&S measures you are putting in place and why you are doing so is important
- Consult with staff to understand their concerns in returning to the workplace
- A phased return to work ensures employees get to hear from their peers who have already been into work about the H&S measures in practice
- Prepare for the potential shut down of the office if an employee tests positive – a rapid exit plan is required in advance of bringing staff back to work
Staff who travel to clients or visit other company premises may also need additional equipment or briefing:
Remote meeting facilities and video-conferencing should be encouraged wherever possible to minimise the need for staff to travel and/or use public transport.
Take Care of the Emotional Agenda and Psychological Needs, not Just the Strategic Changes
The risks to people’s health from this pandemic are psychological as well as physical as a result of the following and all need to be treated sensitively:
- Anxiety about the ongoing health crisis and fear of infection, as well social isolation due to the lockdown.
- Challenging domestic situations, such as juggling childcare or caring for a vulnerable relative, as well as financial worries if a partner has lost their income.
- They may have been dealing with illness, or bereavement
- They may have concerns over travelling to work on public transport. If this is the case maybe you can supply them with PPE to make them feel safer
It will be important to have a re-induction process for returning staff. Every manager should have a 1:1 with every employee with the focus on:
- Health, safety and wellbeing – be sensitive to concerns, give them time to air them and ask questions
- Inform theming of any changes to services or procedures
- Informing them of changes to their duties or tasks
- Checking they are comfortable coming to work, listen to concerns, be flexible where possible
- Allowing continued home working or a phased return to work if domestic situations make travelling to work challenging
- Asking them what the company can do to make them feel even more comfortable about their return to work
It is important that employees feel they are returning to an inclusive workplace. Managers need to be sensitive to underlying tensions that may have resulted from an unequal impact across the workforce and feel confident about tackling them:
- Different employees or individuals will have been affected in diverse ways depending on their job role or individual circumstances
- Some may have been furloughed on 80% of pay or reduced their hours but have continued working
- Others may have continued to work and may have had increased workloads
Post lockdown, when the time comes for companies to start bringing employees back into the workplace, businesses will come under intense scrutiny regarding how they manage the wellbeing of their staff. Employers will therefore have to carefully consider their reintroduction strategies.
Start to consider some of these actions now and get ahead of the curve so you are ready to implement a new version of ‘normal’.
Whatever Boris announces at the end of this week, one thing that we can all be certain of is, there will be no going back to the way we’ve done things before and implementing a new normal will take time and careful consideration.
To get help in finding your ‘new normal’ contact: