Returning to work, but not as we know it

At the time of writing the government has given no formal end date to the restrictions on work and travel put in place to combat Covid-19. However, as other countries including Spain and Italy have begun to ease restrictions it is possible that the UK may follow suit soon. Government officials have already made it clear that we will face some forms of social distancing for a while yet, so how can businesses best prepare for the ongoing changes to come?

Due to the uncertainty of the situation, it would be sensible for businesses to begin considering the options available them now, giving them the capability to adapt to changes as quickly as possible.

Employers need to plan now for a staged return to the workplace (bearing in mind that some staff may need to self-isolate longer than others), which could take place over a prolonged period of time. The health and well-being of team members needs to be a priority, as many people will be concerned and anxious about returning to the workplace or using public transport to get there. Businesses that make it clear to staff they are willing to support them through flexible or remote working will manage this transition best.

Returning to the office - Issues to address

Even when restrictions begin to lift, some staff may still be required to shield (currently for 12 weeks) if they are in the ‘extremely vulnerable’ category or at particular risk from Covid-19 infection. Others may be wary of returning to work because they live with or care for someone who is high risk. In these cases, businesses should allow them to continue working from home if at all possible.

For those that are able to return to the office, there still need to be special measures in place. Protection and hygiene measures should be in place as they were before the lockdown: Remind staff about effective handwashing and provide hand sanitiser. If the business premises have been closed for a period of time a deep clean should be carried out before reopening. Review cleaning arrangements for phones and keyboards and ensure they are wiped daily with anti-viral cleaner.

Even if staff have carried on working and participating in video meetings, they will take time to adjust back to the office environment. This might also be the time to open discussions around flexible working, especially for those who have found they can work well at home.

External meetings

Staff who would normally have been traveling to visit other companies or go to off-site meetings may need additional briefing. Remote meeting facilities and video conferencing should remain in place and be encouraged to minimise the need for staff to come into contact with too many people. As businesses will all have slightly different ways of dealing with the lifting of restrictions it’s likely most businesses will continue using these online facilities for a long time to come.

For businesses that operate internationally there will likely be a longer period of conducting meetings online. These businesses need to plan based on the restrictions of different countries, some with stricter lockdown measures than the UK. This means it will likely be easier to maintain consistency across all meetings by continuing to use remote meeting facilities.

As many organisations have realised during the current lockdown, many business meetings can be conducted via video conferencing.

In summary

We’ll be returning to work, but not as we know it. Changes to the current lockdown restrictions are likely to be slow and gradual. They are also likely to fluctuate, and stricter measures imposed, possibly with very little notice. Organisations should now be thinking about how they can continue working and getting the best from their teams during this time. Processes that have been put in place to enable employees to continue working remotely will be used for the foreseeable future, and could even remain in place to improve business processes after restrictions have been lifted.

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