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Lottie Mayland10 Aug 2020
  • How to
  • Work Advice
  • COVID-19

How To Prepare For A Successful Return To The Office

As lockdown measures ease many businesses are starting to prepare to return to their workplaces. There’s a lot to consider in regards to ensuring that your workplace is prepared in a way that safeguards employees and continues to allow for social distancing as well as providing a stimulating and effective environment for your employees to work within.

Since lockdown was announced on March 23rd the advice from the government had been to work from home wherever possible, however on August 1st the Government changed its advice, stating “instead of (the government) telling people to work from home, we are going to give employers more discretion, and ask them to make decisions about how their staff can work safely,’ at the same time Boris Johnson urged people to, ‘go back to work if you can’. While the advice seemed to change again yesterday (Sept 24th), Rishi Sunak was clear in his resolve to get the economy moving again, stating, 'our lives can no longer be put on hold'.

Many business managers will be keen for their teams to return to the office at least part time, however COVID-19 has not gone away and if employees are to return to the office now or in the future they need to feel safe. To help our clients manage a return to work as safely and easily as possible we’ve put together a guide explaining the steps you need to take, and precautions you need to consider, to make the transition back to the office as seamless as possible.

We’ve split this into 3 main areas.

1. Talk to your employees

The last 4 months have been extremely uncertain and scary; returning to the office is bound to feel like an intimidating idea for many of your employees, especially those who are living with vulnerable people or those who need to commute. According to Bupa Health Clinics, 65% of British workers are feeling anxious about returning to their office, with 42% of those surveyed saying one of their main concerns was being able to properly socially distance while in the workplace. Other concerns included fears about commuting (38%) and the office not being clean enough (37%).

We highly recommend opening up a safe channel where you can discuss your return to work plans with your employees and let them ask questions. If your office is small, this can be done on a companywide VC with a set agenda and Q&A session, if it is larger than 50 people it can work well to invite the heads of departments to a virtual meeting and ask them to come prepared with questions and concerns from their team about returning to the office. You can then address these concerns and report back with a companywide video call or email in which you explain how you will deal with each of their concerns. This may also bring to your attention situations that need to be dealt with that you might not have considered.

Additionally, it’s important to make sure your employees know what support you are putting in place to help them individually deal with their concerns around returning to work. Encourage them to speak to your HR team or heads of departments about any concerns they have, if you haven’t dealt with these already. By demonstrating that you are prepared to take each employee’s situation individually and not force anyone to do anything they are not comfortable with you will gain the trust and respect of your workforce. You might also like to add a section on your website where you update the systems and precautions you are taking within the office to ensure it’s a safe environment to work in. When lockdown was first annouced we took this approach and uploaded a COVID-19 Contingency Plan For Clients, this was a useful post that meant our clients could quickly and easily see how we were dealing with the situation as it developed.

2. Do a risk assessment of your office as it currently operates

A risk assessment will help you to identify potential risks and threats in your office and plan ways that you can change the office layout, or the way your employees work, to remove them. In order to carry our an effective COVID-19 risk assessment you need to:

• Identify what work activity or situations might cause transmission of the virus • Think about who could be at risk • Decide how likely it is that someone could be exposed • Act to remove the activity or situation, or if this isn’t possible, control the risk

Click here for a link to a useful guide on what to include in your risk assessment.

3. Consider ways that your company can adapt it’s working styles

COVID-19 has proved that, with the right technology, working from home is not just possible, but a highly affect way to work for a lot of people. While every case is individual, lots of the candidates we have spoken to have reported that working from home gives them an improved work/life balance – time that was spent commuting can now be spent exercising, sleeping for longer, doing life admin or socialising with friends – even if that means video calling! Others have reported they have saved money, again they haven’t had to buy rail tickets or spend money on petrol and they are also not eating out or buying expensive take-away salads and sandwiches as much. Many have reported feeling far less exhausted from not having to travel to, and deal with, central London every day.

On the flip side though for people living in small spaces or alone a return to the office can provide a much-needed change of scene, a chance to have a quiet space in which to work, and also an opportunity to socialise with other people during the day. What we’re hearing most frequently is that employees see the benefit of meeting up with their colleagues and bosses in person frequently but they don’t want to be back in the office for a full 5 days a week. With this in mind we are encouraging all our clients who are looking to hire to think about, and detail in the job description, whether flexible and remote working is possible in a particular role as it is one of the first things we are being asked.

Not having all of your employees in the office full time will also help enormously to ensure social distancing and safe guarding. We know a number of companies who are operating a rotation system, with different teams using the office on different days. Some are meeting offsite for team meetings and others have changed board rooms into office space as most large board or leadership meetings can now be done over video call.

Preparation is the key to ensuring that your office is set for a successful transition back. Involve your employees in any big decisions you are making and don’t be afraid to adopt working styles and conditions that you didn’t think were possible 6 months ago. Bupa have put together a useful ‘return to work checklist’ that identifies everything that should be considered before expecting your employees to once again work from your office. It has some really useful points in it and we recommend taking a look at it here.

Should you have any questions about what candidates typically expect or you are looking to make a potential new hire please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us here.