Returning to the workplace…
Recent government announcements suggest that anyone unable to work from home, should now where possible, start to return to their workplaces. This is straight-forward advice for industries that cannot work from home but what about those of us that have a choice? How can we decide the right time to do this and the best way to do this? The most important thing is to start planning now, in order to do this safely and most effectively, when the time is right.
The last couple of months has turned everything we did and thought on its head, including our attitudes to home working. Working from home is no longer seen as just an employee benefit for the minority, instead it has and will continue to be a core part of business planning. We have now learnt that it is possible for many of us to work from home and whilst there are undoubtedly some negatives, there are lots of obvious positives that many people will be keen to continue benefitting from. The future challenge for businesses will be how much they can and should continue to offer flexibility, once it is not forced upon them and what the trade-offs will be in doing so.
According to a survey by job board Totaljobs 49% of people are looking forward to returning to work so managing how we introduce our staff back into the office and arriving at solutions that are safe and sustainable is the immediate challenge. Most experts think that this ‘management phase’ of the covid-19 crisis, is likely to last well into next year, so getting it right is crucial. In order to decide who to bring back first, you will need to think about what roles you absolutely need to have in the office and plan accordingly. For example facilities and IT may be among the first to bring back so that they can help plan and implement the rest. Technology infrastructure will play a key part as it will need to continue to support some level of home working for those that cannot come back into the office. The more agile and flexible your systems are, the more you will be able to react to future disruptions ie if we get a large second peak of infections. It will also enable you to offer flexible working as a long-term benefit.
The CIPD have published a guide to returning to the workplace and they encourage all businesses to ensure that they meet three keys tests before bringing people back into the office:
- Is it essential?
- Is it sufficiently safe?
- Is it mutually agreed?
The guide includes lots of practical advice on areas such as risk management and the importance of communicating the new rules and procedures. It also has lots of information on how the government’s new extended, more flexible furlough scheme can help. There are links to other useful information including the government guidance for working safely in offices.
What is clear, is that in order to keep to the government’s social distancing guidelines, most of us will not be able to go back into our offices exactly as we left them. Unless we are able to take extra space, we will need to reduce the number of employees at work at any one time. This could be done in a variety of ways, from shift patterns to rotational days or weeks, but ultimately will probably require some mixture of home and office working.
Managing all these additional challenges, as well as trying to keep business going will require all of us to work together. Clear communication and thorough planning will be vital. Showing that you are putting the health and well-being of your employees at the heart of all the decisions so that they feel supported and valued will be even more important in these challenging uncertain times.