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Returning to the workplace: how to plan for success

8th Jun 2020
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As businesses manage through the disruption of the coronavirus pandemic, they continue to adjust to the new normal.

A growing number of countries are easing restrictions and encouraging some companies to allow their employees to return to their workplaces, especially if working from home is not possible. Employers must be prepared to make this transition a safe and positive one for the benefit of their entire workforce.

As companies enter the recovery phase, businesses should focus on safe and swift employee return and the future working state. We have put together considerations for developing your strategy for a successful return to the workplace.

Regular communications

In the UK, for example, the announcement that some industries would see a return to the workplace came as a surprise to many businesses, not least because England is taking this step ahead of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. On the other hand, many companies in Asia have already reopened offices and resumed regular business operations. Hence, it is essential to share your plans with your workforce in advance to ensure everyone has the same understanding of what to expect as they return to work. Communicating regularly also ensures employees have ample time to ask questions and give feedback, and enforces good employee relations. Don't wait for a final plan before you communicate with your teams.

Health, hygiene and workplace distancing

In the current environment, many governments have put into place social distancing measures, which may need adapting into the workplace as well, particularly in enclosed spaces such as offices and factories.

Before reopening your workplace, consider any cleaning schedule that you will need to put in place and be sure to communicate this to your workforce. It may involve additional cleaning staff or the provision of anti-bacterial hand gels and wipes, for example. Although it may not be mandatory, providing these resources will demonstrate care for the health and safety of your workforce.

Also, consider if personal protective equipment will be required. Many governments' advice promotes the benefits of wearing facemasks in enclosed spaces and while it may not be necessary at all times, consider if there are situations when a mask may be beneficial. You might have to consider closing off or restricting the use of canteen and staff social areas.

You may also need to consider rearranging desks and tables to ensure appropriate social distancing, putting shields up in reception areas and potentially closing meeting rooms that do not allow sufficient space between seats. Be sure you carefully understand your local government and health department’s directives and guidelines as you adjust your workplace in this environment.

Commuting and business travel

With some government guidelines discouraging the use of public transport where possible, you should consider the support that you can provide to your workforce. Those who can walk or cycle should be encouraged, and if you operate in the UK, you may want to consider the Cycle to Work Scheme if you have not already. Help employees think outside of the box about how they can travel to work, and ideally ways in which they can walk or cycle. If they

need to drive to work, are they able to utilise a park and ride car park to cycle the final leg of their journey?

Not only will this help comply with government guidelines, but it will help keep the cost of employees' commute down while promoting healthy habits. Where employees have no choice but to drive, you may want to consider flexible working hours and possibly travel allowances.

Finally, as we see a return to business meetings, site visits, etc., you should consider the options open to your workforce if they would usually utilise public transport. For example, you may consider using hire cars or allowing more time to travel.

Policy and contractual changes

You are likely to need to review many policies to reflect this new way of working. It could be a more flexible working policy, a revised annual leave policy considering an increase in unused leave, or even a new policy dealing with conduct during face-to-face meetings. It is just as important to ensure that your policies reflect your actual practices, as it is to ensure that they reflect best practice.

In addition to this, you should ensure that, where necessary, any contractual changes are made in advance of bringing your workforce back.

Employee support

Even with the best, most supportive strategy in place, this will still be a worrying time for a lot of your workforce. You should ensure that your employees know where they can go for help and support. As you put your strategy into action, you may find that some things don't work as you imagined and it may be your staff that advise you of the best-adapted working practices.

We can provide you with commercial, pragmatic and bespoke advice on your strategy for a successful return to the workplace. If you have any questions about facilitating your workplace return strategy, please do reach out to your Vistra contact or Dana Ewans at [email protected].

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