Woman working in an office wearing a face mask during a pandemic

 

After weeks of being asked to shut down operations and working hard to make the shift to remote work, organisations are being asked to restart their processes as lock down rules are gradually relaxed.  The challenge is complicated by the uncertainties of the progression of COVID-19 and the actions it will drive.

There is no doubt that organisations planning to reopen in the coming weeks will be faced with very different workplaces and a potentially concerned workforce.  To ensure readiness for the return to work organisations must now engage with their workforce to develop a practical plan for returning to the workplace.  Engaging not only with those who are responsible for health and safety, but office managers, line managers, team leaders and employees themselves.

The transition can be stressful for employees, so it is important that communication is persistent along the way.  Keeping employees informed and up to date on planning helps to keep them engaged and on board with the plan and gives them a degree of security in uncertain times.  Being clear about the decisions that have been made and the plans being implemented will create transparency and keep everyone on the same page.

There are a number of things to consider when creating the return-to-work plan and making the decision to bring employees back into the workplace:

 

Putting People First

Organisations must ensure that employees feel safe, connected and supported during their return to the workplace.  Designing an employee feedback program can help engage employees and monitor their feedback on the return-to-work policies.  Employee pulse surveys can answer any questions that may arise around employee’s well being and concerns, while also letting them feel like they are being heard.

Monthly pulse surveying during the initial return period for effective collecting and responding to employees’ feedback, will allow for adjustments that can aid in long term success.  After the initial changes frequency of the pulse surveys can be reduced but will continue to monitor employee needs.

The results of the surveys should be shared with everyone in the organization. Senior leadership, Human Resources, Quality and IT can use the results to ensure that the correct plans are in place to facilitate a safe return to work for employees.

 

More Flexible Work From Home Policies

Many organisations worked hard and successfully made the transition to remote working.  They must now consider if this is an option they can still offer.  For many employees it is important that they can still have a degree of flexibility to work from home, even after business closure restrictions are lifted. While workplaces may be reopening at an accelerated rate childcare remains an issue. Research shows 67% of children under six have all available parents participating in the workforce.

The extent in which remote working policies can remain flexible will aid in the retention of known and trusted employees.  This can reduce the pressure of having to recruit and get new employees up to speed.  Allowing some remote working flexibility with shift work can also help with social distancing by reducing the number of people in the workplace at the same time.

 

Designing a Safe Space to Work

It is likely that there will be rules on social distancing in place long after businesses reopen.  Changes will have to be made in workplaces to accommodate restrictions on how many people can be in the one space or how close people can be next to each other. Regulations currently call for the staggering of breaks, adapt sign in and sign out policies and physical barriers to be put into place where keeping a 2-meter distance is not possible.

Care will also need to be taken when creating a plan for keeping workplaces up to hygiene standards.  Work spaces will need to have appropriate hygiene facilities in place, good ventilation, regular cleaning of workspace and hand sanitizers must be provided.

All employees will also need to be provided with advice on good respiratory practice. COVID-19 induction training should be provided for all the workforce, to make them aware of updated safety plan and safety statement.  It is good practice to have a checklist in place to ensure all requirements have been met before employees return to work.

 

Transforming for the Future

Although the return to work presents many new challenges for organisations, it also presents an opportunity.  For many organisations this is the time to build on the competencies they wish they had invested in before, such as becoming more digital – starting the digital transformation journey.  Migrating applications to the cloud and discovering new ways to drive innovation using these applications.   The long-term success of reopening lies in building new capabilities, as the future of work is changing.  This is a window of opportunity to begin wider business transformation by adopting new digital technologies and to create a new digital workplace.

 

Conclusion

For many organisations reopening will be more than a restart, it will be the beginning of a new era of business.  Employee and customer behaviors have changed and certain restrictions will be in place for a long time to come.

There have been many challenges with transitioning to remote work or closures and the return to work complying with restrictions.  However, organisations have gained the experience of how to manage the risks associated with large-scale workforce fluctuations and have learned how to overcome them and plan for the future.

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