Welcome back! Here’s how your business can give employees a smooth transition back into the workplace.

The United Kingdom is slowly returning to the workplace. Many people are shaking their colleagues’ hands for the first time in over a year, or speaking face-to-face with clients they’ve not had the chance to meet in person yet.

For many however, this return to normality is not entirely welcome.
As a business owner, you may find that some of your employees thrive while working from home… and they are now reluctant to return. Unfortunately, you may not have the luxury to offer them a permanent homeworking option – especially if your company relies on physical, manual labour, or relies on collaborative working together.

Therefore, with different employees wanting different things, how can your business give everyone a smooth transition back into the workplace?

There is no shortcut to employee satisfaction. Each individual will have different wants and requirements, and you must be mindful to them. Nevertheless, there are a few key things all businesses can do to ensure a smooth transition… and we’ve outlined these in the blog below.

Health and safety come first!
Your company’s office has been empty for over a year – and you may have fallen behind on your regular health and safety checks. This makes it crucial that you carry out a thorough risk assessment, so your employees are completely safe as they return to the office.

You can either bring in a qualified expert to complete this risk assessment for you, or you can do it yourself. Either way, you must take considerable time to:

  • Identify hazards;
  • Decide who may be harmed, and how;
  • Assess the risks;
  • Take action to mitigate any risks;
  • Make a record of your findings.

Following these five steps will ensure that your team are completely safe. This will increase their willingness to return to the office, creating a win-win for everyone!
A few key examples of health and safety measures your business should take include making sure that:

  • Equipment is working properly & safely
  • Employees are re-trained or refreshed on how to use machinery, if necessary
  • Security & fire alarms are properly fitted & working
  • Work surfaces and communal areas have been properly sanitised, and a method implemented for ensuring that they are kept sanitary
  • Offices are ventilated with fresh air

If your employees are required to regularly use dangerous equipment, you need to ensure that this machinery is working properly and safely, and also that your team are offered refresher training on how to use it.

Your full list of safety fixes will be much, much longer than the list above, of course. When it comes to health and safety, you cannot be too cautious.

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Looking after your reluctant returners
You always want your employees to be happy – but sometimes, this can put you in a challenging position. When dealing with a reluctant returner (someone who doesn’t want to come back to the office) for example, you must tread carefully, so you don’t scare away your employee for good.

Some tips for approaching tackling a reluctant returner:
Remember how stressful the past 18 months have been, and that there is still a large percentage of the population who genuinely fear ill health and death as a result of the Coronavirus.

  • Consider the wide spectrum of people and concerns from your employees.
  • Approach the subject cautiously.
  • Seek to understand their concerns.
  • Establish regular communication with them.
  • Consider the validity of their concerns (e.g. how high risk they are).
  • Reassure them that returning to the workplace will be fine.
  • Try to reach an agreement.

As a company owner, you should keep in regular contact with your employees, to make sure their wellbeing is being discussed. You should also be sympathetic to the concerns of people who are particularly vulnerable to Covid-19, including:

  • Older males
  • People with higher BMI
  • Individuals with health conditions

Keep in mind that not all your reluctant returners will be anxious because of Covid-19; some may relish the homeworking lifestyle, and the work/life balance it affords them and don’t want to change, or go back to lengthy and expensive commutes.

Nevertheless, if a long-term homeworking arrangement is to be made, you first need to re-draft the employee’s contract – something which may take a bit of time. Therefore, you must ask your employee to be patient, and return to the office, while this happens.

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Ensure social distancing measures are in place
Although the UK is returning to work, the government continues to emphasise the importance of social distancing. Furthermore, your employees will likely feel safer (and therefore more motivated to work) if they know that you are doing everything possible to keep them safe and healthy.
The workplace will need to continue to ensure social distancing by:

  • Spacing out desks, so employees are farther apart
  • Staggering start & finish times, to avoid congestion (everyone arriving or leaving the office at the same time)
  • Avoiding tasks that require close physical collaboration
  • Putting up signs reminding people to socially distance

A staggered shift pattern is an increasingly popular way of supporting social distancing. When your employees have different start, finish and break times from their colleagues, you will avoid congestion at peak times and therefore enforce social distancing.

Of course, before implementing staggered working times, you should discuss what this will look like with your employees. You must also prepare for potential backlash from employees who enjoy taking breaks with the same colleagues every day!

Rebuild lines of communication – particularly with reluctant returners
After over a year of working from home, communicating in-person may feel a bit rusty for your employees. In addition, if you have reluctant returners who are still working from home, it is even more critical that lines of communication are rebuilt and optimised.

You can rebuild lines of communication throughout your entire workforce through:

  • Company/department-wide video meetings, ideally every morning, but regularly enough to maintain strong contact links
  • Encouraging employees to keep their email open, so homeworkers can reach them
  • Ensuring all employees bring their phone to work, so homeworkers can call them
  • Creating a WhatsApp group with both office and homeworkers

Once you have permitted employees to work from home, you must ensure that this decision does not isolate them. In-person meetings for only those in the office will cause homeworkers to feel isolated, punished, and unaware of client updates.

To guarantee that everyone feels included, you must rebuild communication channels using digital means – phones, emails, online meetings and WhatsApp groups.

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Mental health and wellbeing upon returning to work
Whatever industry you operate in, it is so important that your organisation supports its employees with their mental health. This is particularly important in a post-Covid world, where employees may feel more anxieties than pre-pandemic levels.

But how can you achieve this? What measures can you put in place to look after your employee’s wellbeing?

A few suggestions for achieving this include:

  • Setting up regular 1-2-1s between employees and their line managers
  • Arranging mental health awareness training
  • Appointing mental health first aiders in the company, for employees to reach out to
  • Ensure the individual needs of every employee are considered in their working arrangements & contract

Research has shown that when employees have an outlet through which to talk about their struggles, it makes the issue of mental health significantly easier to manage, helps break down barriers and removes opportunities for discrimination to occur.

Furthermore, providing support for employees to talk about their mental health is proven to benefit employers through:

  • Increased employee satisfaction
  • Increased employee productivity
  • Reduced absenteeism/presenteeism
  • Improved company reputation
  • Increased quality of candidates applying for your roles

When people are happier at work, you will get the best out of them. This provides real, tangible financial benefits for your company – and ensures that you attract the best talent in the market.

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Returning to work: Are you prepared?
Bringing employees back to the workplace represents a daunting proposition for some. In this case, bringing in an expert HR team could lift the weight off your shoulders, and make sure everything is done right.

Whatever the requirements or concerns of your employees are, HR Initiatives can help mitigate them and help you ease your team back into the workplace.
Call us now on 01438 742 056 or email info@hrinitiatives.co.uk for a free no obligation conversation about returning to the workplace.