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The practicalities of returning to work after Lockdown

Businesses are starting to look deeper into their operations as we navigate our way through the Coronavirus pandemic. Financial and operational business continuation plans are probably taking shape. However, the people plan can be very complex depending on the current status of your business and your future expectations.

It is important to recognise that workforce changes are needed. Whether it is a change of policy relating to sickness absence, practical health and safety considerations or if there are more widespread implications. Either way specific processes need to be followed, with sufficient time, to prevent successful employment tribunal claims down the line. 

Thinking about the immediate future there are practical things to consider:

Phased returns, short term working and lay off periods are all specific people activities that may need to occur to support your business’s cost strategies. Especially if you envisage struggling to meet the salary requirements after furlough grants expire. In the most difficult of circumstances, redundancies may need to be considered.

Understanding your current cost position, factoring in all associated employee transition costs, and managing risk by considering the Legal and HR implications of such activities are key steps to successful implementation of these forms of change.

Physically returning your teams to work will pose a variety of risks and challenges depending on when, how and who will be returning and into what sort of workspace.

Social distancing will be in place for the foreseeable future. Each workplace will need to consider office and worksite configurations, use of shared workspaces and PPE for all employees where potentially this was not required previously. There is also the responsibility to complete appropriate risk assessments and ensure training is completed so every employee understands the responsibilities and expectations that are upon them.  

If you are a business that normally has some form of ‘moving’ workforce, i.e. not home or office based, that are required to travel in order to complete their role, then you will have a myriad of complexities to review. Things to consider vary from how when and where they travel, how long they can stay away for, how they are operating on other locations to how they source fuel.

Ability to attend the office. If you have employees that normally rely on public transport, there are considerations for your employees and also your workplace to define whether the transport service is available, whether it is safe to use, the impact on your employee but also the impact on your workplace and how you reduce the risk of spread from communal transportation. 

More employees may be asking for workplace flexibility and/or increased requests for working from home. In many cases this option has been proven to work or at least be a viable option in the short-term so how do you define what is appropriate and how do you choose who can and cannot work from home. Remember that all legal requirements regarding discrimination are all still in place. The rights of employees as to how these difficult situations are managed remain in line with existing legislation.

Ongoing shielding and childcare issues will be a challenge for some employees and businesses to consider, especially if the vaccine is not in the mainstream market for some time. Thinking about how you can support flexibility and maintain productivity and profitability is key.

Policy changes – sickness absence, bereavement leave, whistleblowing policies might need to be reviewed and addressed. As will returning to work processes and potentially medical questionnaires.

Be mindful of the good work plan changes that were implemented in April 2020 and don’t fall foul of the three key areas relating to right to information for employees and agency workers from day one and in regard to right to request consultation.

There will be different challenges and different actions required relating to the mental and general wellbeing support needed by your employees. Do not assume everyone will be coming back fighting fit and ready for action. The morale and engagement levels may vary significantly between those that were furloughed vs those still working and working from home.

I think there is a real call for a reintroduction/induction to be completed. Informing and aligning your people might be a good idea and a standard induction programme for all employees might be a great way to do this.

Taking the time in the next few weeks to accurately review your current situation and create your Covid People Plan should mitigate your people risk and create a positive atmosphere within your business.

ViewHR has put together a robust people planning process to support you to identify all the areas that you will need to consider and take action on related to your people. It is also a helpful tool to enable you to prioritise those actions into short, medium and long term requirements. Let us help you reduce the burden as we know that this is an incredibly difficult time. Get in touch with us today.