It might sound dramatic but the harsh reality is that when businesses return to whatever their ‘new normal’ is, it is going to look markedly different to pre-lockdown.
Here, Julie Lock, commercial director at workforce management solutions provider Mitrefinch, discusses the importance of the ‘re-onboarding’ process for employers and offers some guidance for HR teams and managers on how to do this effectively to ensure employees feel recognised during such unprecedented times. She will also touch on some of the implications of not recognising these changes or ignoring them altogether.
The UK has already witnessed mass redundancies, and the restructuring of many roles and responsibilities over the past few months, in addition to the obvious changes required relating to social distancing in the workplace. For many people, particularly those who might have been furloughed, it could feel like a completely new job when they do eventually return over the coming weeks.
If you haven’t already, now really is the time to start preparing for what the future will hold for your business and your staff. The recent lockdown, while devastating, has forced companies to explore flexible working to a new level that the UK would never have expected so soon, and for many sectors flexible working could revolutionise operations and productivity. Many staff are now asking themselves why they were travelling to work every day in the first place and employers question why they were committing to the expense of workspace for every employee, these are two very valid questions that require investigation.
For staff returning from furlough and for those that have been working from home over the past few months, there needs to be a re-onboarding induction when returning to the new “business as usual”. It’s also critical to remember that this is no longer just a HR issue – companies need to be certain that across every department there are sufficient processes in place to ensure staff are as mentally and physically prepared to return to the new normal. Here are some of the key considerations that need to be addressed early on in the process:
Where were the ‘holes’ during lockdown and how can these be filled?
For many businesses, the pandemic has forced them to scrutinise their own IT provisions and technology. Some businesses have struggled to adapt due to having poor hardware infrastructures and poor software solutions that are not conducive to remote working, this in turn has negatively impacted productivity. It is therefore critical that, if businesses haven’t already, they need to ensure that their employees have all the tools they need to do their jobs regardless of location.
Now is the time to assess what worked well and what didn’t during the remote working process – it’s a valid reason to have a review of the tools and processes that failed to support the remote workforce. Every organisation needs to be prepared for future lockdowns.
Getting productivity back to ‘normal’ levels
Lockdown has affected employees very differently across the board with some coping well and even exceeding previous productivity, whilst others struggled to carry out work from home successfully. It’s important to establish the factors behind this before staff return to normal to identify potential solutions to minimise distractions and to support concentration.
However, it’s important to remember that everyone’s circumstances vary. Not all home environments are the same e.g. lack of childcare, poor wi-fi or limited workspace.
Mental and emotional wellbeing
Statistics suggest that the UK workforce was already struggling with a mental health crisis prior to the pandemic with 56 per cent of staff reporting they had at some point struggled with their mental health or wellbeing, with two thirds of those admitting they didn’t tell their employer.
With this in mind, employers need to ensure that they are ready to make provisions to address the mental and emotional impact that lockdown may have had, or could have, in the future. Some of your team may have experienced the loss of a family member during this time, a situation made all the harder by social distancing; some may be classed as vulnerable workers and be experiencing anxiety surrounding returning to work and potentially exposing themselves to the virus. The shift to remote working practices may have also caused some team members to reevaluate their priorities in life, perhaps looking to find a healthier work-life balance in the long run.
Risk assessment and precautions
Considerations need to be made as to who should be returning to work and when. Not all of your staff will need to return to work at the same time, and a phased return will help to minimise the risk of infection in the workspace.
The first step should be to carry out risk assessment – if you have five or more employees, this means constructing a written report that outlines the possible risks faced by returning employees as a result of returning to work and how these can be mitigated. It may also be necessary to introduce PPE to the workplace to prevent the transmission of the virus. With this in mind, the findings of your return-to-work risk assessments should be tailored to the specific sector and environment in which you operate. In general terms, though, your risk assessments should explore questions such as:
How are you health-checking your employees?
Can employees safely enter and exit your business premises?
Is there a risk of third parties such as clients entering the workplace?
Will meetings have to take place in confined spaces?
Are facilities such as toilets, kitchens, and breakout spaces safe to be open? Will you need to consider reduced access to these facilities?
Have you scheduled your required first aiders and fire marshals to be present if the business reopens?
Does your workspace rely on air-conditioning?
How will employees navigate around the workspace safely?
How are you briefing employees and signposting new safety measures?
How can employees raise concerns without fear of reprisal?
What does your new fire evacuation process look like? Are you coordinating a new fire drill to get your employees used to the new method?
Are mental health first aiders available to your employees?
Have you carried out a deep clean before re-opening the workspace?
What does your new cleaning programme look like?
How attendance can be staggered if need be
Bringing back an entire workforce at the same time will not be possible for many businesses and it’s important this is acknowledged. To ensure that a wider cross-section of employees are able to work, it may be helpful to introduce a new system of staggered shifts, with only one rotation of employees present on-site at any one time. The group that comes into work should be kept consistent so that staff members only come into contact with a small percentage of the workforce, in the event of an employee testing positive for Covid-19, you are able to identify and inform the shift colleagues.
Start time and finish times will also need to be planned out carefully to ensure that there is not a sudden influx of people at any access point, which would increase the amount of contact between employees considerably. Similar measures may need to be implemented in relation to break times and lunch hours, preventing too many employees from occupying the same space at the same time.
Technology and automation can now be used to effectively manage the flow of staff in and out of buildings and can control this at any time, addressing the risk and helping employees to feel at ease when they are considering whether or not to come into the workplace.
About the author
Julie Lock is commercial director at Mitrefinch. Her expertise has seen her working with some of the largest global software suppliers in the HR and payroll industry to help support employee development, engagement and business growth.
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