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  • Tim Smith

Returning to the workplace - when is right for your business?

PM Boris Johnson this week set out a new more optimistic vision for how the country, and specifically businesses might begin the process of returning to normal over the remainder of 2020.

Significantly, from the beginning of August, it will no longer be government advice for people to work from home where they can. Instead, the government is placing the onus on employers to determine whether they should continue with the remote working setup that many have become used to during lockdown, or to encourage their employees back to the workplace.

This change of ownership for the decision about when employees should return to work will put companies in a difficult position.

Navigating the wealth of information, analysis and commentary around the Covid-19 pandemic is not easy. Many business leaders may feel they lack sufficient clarity to make a decision that could have serious ramifications for the health of their business and their employees.

Accordingly, we are sharing a reminder of the key points to consider when weighing up the pros and cons of reducing remote working:

Risk Assessment and being ‘Covid Secure’:

Employers must complete an adequate risk assessment before returning anyone to the workplace. New measures will likely need to be implemented to make the working environment ‘Covid Secure’.

This may be a substantial task depending on the size of the workplace, and will involve a thorough examination of all shared social spaces - think lifts, canteens, toilets, as well as the work areas.

Survey the opinion of the workforce as a whole...

Take the time to get the opinion of your workforce - what do they want? How comfortable are they with the prospect of returning to the workplace?

Remember, it is not just about the work environment - for many the commute will be just as big a concern as what happens when they get to work.

Getting an overall view of the workforce sentiment will help steer you on the right path.

...but remember to take an individual approach

A one-size fits all approach won’t work here - we are talking about people’s health. Some employees will fall into a vulnerable group, or have relatives living with them who do. They may be understandably more reluctant.

Work with managers to listen to individuals as your desired approach may not work for everyone, and compromise will be needed.

What benefit will a return to the workplace bring?

Many companies have implemented remote working for the first time during the pandemic.

Many have found it a huge success and will see a reduction in required office space as a fruitful cost saving opportunity. However many will have missed the social interaction of the shared workspace.

Fundamentally as a leader you need to understand the requirements of each role within your company.

What are you losing by not having employees in the office? Look at the data - maybe efficiency and other performance metrics have actually improved at home?

Consider the real merit of bringing remote working to an end - will it actually benefit your business?

Be flexible where possible

Finally, try to be flexible and consider the best interests of employees where you can. Yes, the bottom line has to matter.

But we have already seen that the companies who come out of Covid with their reputations damaged, are those who fail to protect their employees.

If you need advice around managing a return to the workplace following the Covid-19 pandemic, or support in consulting with employees who may be reluctant to return, get in touch here.

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