How to bring staff back to the workplace confidently

Some of our clients have started to ask us about how to return their staff to the workplace, and what to do with those who are reluctant to return. With the Government urging everyone back to office to save city centres, and 41% of respondents to a YouGuv poll saying they do not believe workers should be encouraged to return to the workplace, employers are heading into a potential conflict between themselves and their staff. We thought therefore it would be helpful to capture the advice we have been giving to clients to help you return your staff to the workplace safely and in a way which reassures people that it is not something to be frightened of.

1. Make sure your workplace is Covid safe

Getting the health and safety aspects right is absolutely key to being able to bring people back to work safely. Use the Covid-19 risk assessments available from Gov.UK and the Health and Safety Executive and make sure they are up to date and current. Follow all the guidance that is available to you for your specific type of workplace and document all the steps you have taken to minimise the risk of infection. Where you have not been able to meet the specific guidance, record why not and what other steps you have taken to mitigate the risk. Where necessary use screens to separate workers, or face all desks in the same direction so that people are not sitting opposite each other. Make sure you put as much space as you can between office desks and if you have the space, 2 metres is a good distance between desks and work spaces so that everyone has their own safe space to work in. One way systems up and down stairs or with lifts will help, as will staggering start, finish and lunch times so that people are not all arriving or moving about the building together.

2. Communicate, communicate, communicate

Communicate your risk assessment to staff, giving them copies or making it available and answering any questions that they have to reassure them that you are doing everything you can and that you are following all the guidance available to you. You cannot communicate too much about the steps you have taken to make the workplace safe for those that you really do need back.

3. Listen to your staff

All sorts of reasons for not returning to work are being given and you really do need to listen to your staff and discuss with them individually their concerns and worries. A friend of mine did not go into hospital recently when she was having a heart attack because she was scared of catching coronavirus! She would clearly rather have died from a heart attack than run the risk of catching coronavirus. That is a bit extreme, but different people have different levels of fear and concern and we really need to show that we are listening to this and that we are genuinely concerned for each person's safety. With the rise in cases across the UK and winter on its way, people will start worrying again about the increased risk of catching the virus and it is only through time and patience that you wil be able to encourage people who are really worried back to work.

4. Work in bubbles

Where you really do need to bring people back into the workplace, consider operating teams or departments in bubbles, so that, for example, you only have half the team back at any one time. This will make people feel safer and will minimise the risk to the business as you will only lose half the team if someone has to self-isolate because they have contracted the virus or has been in touch with someone who has. If one person in the team has to self-isolate the chances are the rest of the team will, so keeping people in bubbles will have benefits all round.

5. Review which roles can genuinely be done from home and which cannot

Lockdown changed perceptions about working from home overnight, with everyone being forced to work from home where they can. But it is amazing how many employers want everyone to come back to work and carry on as they did before lockdown. The reality is that this is not going to happen as there will be local lockdowns and many people (including me) simply don't want to work from the office again as we appreciate not having to commute etc. We are hearing from clients that in some cases working from home is causing problems because they have lost spontaneous problem solving, decision making and idea generation, so we think it is important to determine objectively which roles can remain at home if requested and which roles genuinely cannot. We have developed a job analysis tool to help you to consider which jobs can be done from home, so if you would like to know more about how to use this tool to help your decision making, complete the contact form below or give us a call.

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