With the roadmap out of lockdown well under way, many businesses are going to be preparing to go back to the workplace. Whilst all businesses are different, there are several factors which are going to be relevant to most employers and worthy of consideration. Planning is going to help this transitional process over the coming weeks. So, what will be important?
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The most important aspect of your action plan should be communication. Some staff will have been furloughed, either fully or flexibly and others will have worked from home over the last 15 months. There may well be some reluctance to return to the workplace, either due to anxieties about COVID-19 generally and having been out of the normal place of work for an extended period or because your employees have just got used to and prefer the flexibilities that working from home may have offered, i.e., potentially an improved work life balance.
If you have furloughed your employees, you will need to formally end this arrangement. Whilst you do not legally have to give notice to your employees that they are needed back in work, it is certainly good practice to do so and will give you the opportunity to explore individual concerns or worries that your employees may have and look at ways to address these. Many employees may need to make childcare or other caring arrangements and the more notice they have that they are returning to their normal workplace, the better opportunity they will have to put their own plans in place.
Safe Working Environment
To address any worries around providing a safe working environment, talk to your employees about the measures that you are putting in place to try and alleviate these fears. Possibly go through your COVID-19 risk assessment with them. You could invite them to come in and have a look around and see what is different from when they worked at your premises previously. Despite the roadmap outlined by the Government and the devolved administrations, COVID has not gone away, and all appropriate safety guidelines must continue to be followed to ensure that you are providing a safe working environment.
Offering Hybrid Working
You may be in a position, due to the type of work that your employees undertake, to offer a hybrid working arrangement. In a nutshell hybrid working is a location-flexible arrangement, allowing employees to combine onsite and home working. You and your employees may find this arrangement beneficial. From the employer’s perspective, it may be that you can reduce the size of your office space and therefore reduce overheads in the longer terms. It also may assist with social distancing measures in the work place – many employees will feel more comfortable about being in the workplace if it is not too crowded, so it may allow you to set up a staff rota of who is in the office and who is at home and rotate this around to suit the business needs.
This could also be an option if you have concerns or doubts about productivity of those employees who work from home. It may allow you to set up some specific tasks or objectives to be able to then measure the difference in achievements from both working environments.
The detail of a hybrid working policy can be at the employers discretion, it could be that you adopt a “Office first – remote allowed” policy with the expectation being that the employee should predominately be in the office but there is some flexibility on an ad hoc basis to work off site. It might be that you can reverse this and have more of a “remote first – office allowed” approach however you may have to consider the logistics of this.
For anyone that is to continue with a more permanent working from home arrangement, be mindful of feelings of isolation and/or exclusion and look to ensure that your employees have the appropriate set-up and equipment to do this for the long term.
Companies may no longer be able to say that jobs simply cannot operate remotely, which was a common reason to reject such requests prior to COVID-19. Employees with 26 weeks continuous service can make a formal Flexible Working Request to change their working arrangements permanently and employers may now find it more difficult or unreasonable to turn down such requests.
As COVID-19 restrictions lift, employers and employees have an opportunity over the next few weeks to work together on getting future working arrangements right. If you require any assistance with ending furlough, dealing with Flexible Working Requests or any other aspect of new ways of working in the COVID-19 environment, please contact your Alcumus HR Consultant for advice and assistance.
Marie-Clare Swallow, Senior HR Consultant