How to support employees returning to the workplace

06 July 2020

Our guide can help you negotiate this transition period and ensure your people feel supported.

Since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, hundreds of thousands of workers have adjusted to the home-working environment, to the point where it’s become the new normal. But as the lockdown starts to lift, returning to the workplace is something many people face in the coming weeks.

Lots of people will be raring to get back to work, while others may be less enthusiastic. As an employer, you need to support all your staff through this transition, and ensure the appropriate measures are put in place to support it.

To help businesses with this, we’ve put together a guide with a few ideas on how to support employees returning to the workplace.

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First steps: Relieving concerns and forward planning

To ensure the return to work period goes smoothly, careful planning is needed so that staff feel safe, comfortable and ready to return to the workplace. There are several measures businesses may want to put in place to afford employees the confidence to return, and some questions they’ll need to answer before things can go back to business as usual.

As a business leader, the following points are useful to consider when road-mapping your return to work policy:

    • Is it essential? Is now really the time to welcome staff back to the workplace? With remote working measures in place for many businesses, think carefully about whether bringing employees back will add genuine value to your operation. By moving on this too early, you risk unsettling your employees ahead of when you really need to.

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  • Is it safe? What measures will you need to put in place to ensure the workplace is safe for your employees? Carrying out a full risk assessment, which considers everything from commuting to day-to-day workplace activity, can provide greater reassurance to your personnel.

returning to the office

  • Do you need a staggered approach? Depending on the size of your business and the number of personnel required to return to work, you may need to set up a staggered approach. Staggering the return process guarantees maximum safety and compliance with distancing measures, and gives you time to make necessary adjustments and adapt to the changing environment.
  • Are staff happy and ready to return? One of the key considerations is evaluating whether your workforce mutually agree that now is the right time to return. Clear communication and transparency are key here, which is why forward planning is so vital.

How to support your staff through the return to work period

Business as usual doesn’t happen overnight. Your employees may need additional support in the short and long term to ease them through the return to work process – whether its flexible working hours or extra support for their health and wellbeing.

Below, we explore some of the ways you can help support your people through the return to work period.

Flexible working hours

Given your staff will have adjusted to the rhythm and flow of remote working, returning to the 9-5 routine could present challenges and complications. For example, they may have trouble arranging childcare or be unable to access local public transport – meaning a flexible and empathetic approach is vital in helping to support them through this transition period.

flexible working

Introducing flexible working hours has a two-fold benefit. For one, staff will be able to organise their home life with greater ease, whether that’s taking care of children or supporting vulnerable family members. Then, of course, there’s the safety benefit: with the option to avoid rush-hour commuting, those reliant on public transport are likely to feel safer travelling to and from work.

Mitigating the cost of commuting

One of the obvious benefits of remote working is saving on commuting costs, and this is a benefit millions of workers will have gotten used to over the past few weeks. Anything you can do to alleviate the strain of increased day-to-day expenditure will be greatly appreciated by your people.

This doesn’t have to be simply a monetary allowance, either. There are several avenues you can explore to help support staff with commuting costs – whether that’s setting up a car-share system or becoming a member of the Cycle To Work scheme.

Well-defined safety measures

One of the foremost things returning workers will want to see is a clear set of instructions on how they can stay safe in the workplace. You need to show that you’ve given safety your full consideration, with a range of measures in place to safeguard your workforce.

A risk assessment is a great place to begin when mapping out your return to work safety measures. Carefully consider every element of your operation to ensure that protocols are in place to safeguard workers – whether that’s rearranging desks, introducing robust safety checks, or staggering lunch breaks.

When you’ve defined the safety measures you’ll implement as part of the return to work period, present them to staff in a formal document or email before they return to the workplace. A meeting via video link can also be beneficial in highlighting the new safety advice and putting minds at rest about returning to work.

cycling to work

Listen to your workforce

Some members of your workforce may be champing at the bit to get back to the office, while others may be fearful of the challenges of transitioning away from remote working at home. For this reason, it’s crucial that you listen to the will of your employees, and take heed of their concerns and worries going forward.

If possible, arrange a video meeting with each of your staff members, for a confidential chat about how they’re feeling about the prospect of returning to work. Note down their concerns and be ready to answer their questions with regards to the measures you’ll be implementing to safeguard them throughout the transition.

It’s important to be as flexible as you can here. Every member of your workforce will have different concerns, worries and needs, so anything you can do – no matter how small – to help their life easier will be an enormous help, and will ensure each member of your team feels valued and supported.

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