Are you planning for business ‘normality’ again? Here are FOUR things you need to consider

Boris Johnson says he will be talking in Parliament about how they intend to ease the lock down restrictions, and although none of us expect a firm plan with dates and detail this week, we are starting to think about what this might mean for us and our businesses.

There is no doubt that during the last few weeks, leaders have been focused on dealing with the immediate fallout of the coronavirus, making changes to the way the business operates or closing it down and getting a handle on furlough leave.

Much of our talk is now turning to how we get back to work safely, what longer term impact of the pandemic will have on our sales and operation, and how we address staff concerns.

Regardless of how or when the lockdown will end, or what sector your business operates in, businesses that intend to make the transition as seamless as possible are now anticipating the hurdles of returning, and planning for some sense of normal again.

Implementing a remote working strategy, communicating business capabilities with clients and navigating the swiftly-changing Government legislation surrounding its furlough scheme are no easy tasks and require acute attention to detail.

However as countries such as England and Italy pass the peak in numbers of cases, many across the globe are starting to consider how lockdown measures end, and what the lasting implications will be for the economy and the world of work.

Talking to employers, several common points to address are emerging:

  1. How to return staff safely, and then keep them safe – when we know there is still a chance of infection and potentially a further lock down.
  2. How to ensure staff are fully occupied at work, with concerns over a slowdown in the economy or even as we enter a recession
  3. How to address staff concerns such as a reluctance to return to work, ongoing childcare considerations or grieving processes – and perhaps handle an influx of flexible working requests now that employees are used to this and want to continue
  4. How to manage longer term external factors such as procurement, a possible surge in demand for services denied during lockdown – or the reverse – and removal of financial aid before pre-Coronavirus levels of activity return.

How to return staff safely and then keep them safe

The increased risk of transmission when work does return to some form of normality must be a key area in every employer’s plan, and it is essential for employees’ piece of mind that measures taken are communicated to staff in advance. 

We should anticipate that most employers are going to get a confirmed case of Covid-19 sooner or later, so our plan should include the measures we will take if this happens. Our workplaces will need to be sanitised, we need to consider additional PPE, changes to the office layout such as moving desks to spread staff out, and avoiding bottlenecks where staff tend to congregate.

We should identify places in the office to reinforce the use of hand sanitiser and good hand-washing practices.

We need to find a balance between maintaining the focus on reducing infection risk while not creating more fear and anxiety.

Finally, we need to continue to monitor employees for symptoms and train line managers on the process to take if an employee becomes ill, or starts to demonstrate the symptoms of Covid 19 while at work.  If this happens, they must be sent home immediately.

What should you do if an employee has Coronavirus?

The Government’s guidance makes clear that it is not necessary to close the business or workplace if an employee develops symptoms, or send any other staff home as a precaution.

There is guidance on how to clean a potentially contaminated environment. It would be wise to brief line managers on these guidelines as part of the planning to return phase, so there is no delay or hesitation should an employee fall ill.

To prevent cross-infection you should also consider:

  • Amending working hours to reduce public transport use during peak periods
  • Encouraging staff to bring their own food, drink, cups, plates, cutlery etc to work rather than using communal equipment
  • Having disinfectant sprays and disposable towels on hand near all common contact points such as kettles, microwaves, entrance key pads, lift buttons, hand rails
  • Extending and staggering work times and meal/ break times to avoid crowding
  • Where staff cannot be kept two metres apart, they should work side by side or with their back to each other, rather than facing each other
  • If your staff are customer-facing, consider additional signage, entry regulation, floor markings and barriers
  • Ensure all managers are aware of the company’s sickness absence provisions to ensure they can communicate what will happen during any period of self-isolation.

How to ensure staff are fully occupied at work

There are many practical considerations employers should take into account before considering the potential need to take more drastic action such as redundancy.

In the first instance it is important to try to anticipate the business need / volume of work when returning and matching this need to the staff needed to return.

While the business might be ready and able to return, some employees may still be unable to return due to their circumstances. You may have staff who still need to stay home to care for their children if schools are closed.

Some staff may be self-isolating or off work with other unrelated health concerns, including bereavement leave.  

Employers can ask staff to take some of their annual leave but must provide the employee of notice of this requirement, and it will need to be paid of course.

The Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is aimed at avoiding lay off and redundancies, so if you are struggling to find work for your employees this scheme should be utilised where possible and whilst it is still available if other measures can’t be taken.

How to deal with a downturn in work

Although you might be planning to return to work before the end of June, the Governments CJRS is currently available until then, so you could consider drawing up a list of those employees at greater risk of infection, including those who have been advised to shield and those who live with others at greater risk of infection, and continue to these team members’ furlough leave.

It is important to start talking to employees as soon as possible if you fear you may ultimately need to make some redundancies within your business. When faced with the potential of redundancy, staff may be willing to mutually agree measures to avoid this, such as short working or job sharing. 

While every business leader will be keen to balance the need for all employees to return an investment to the business while being paid, we should – if possible – look beyond the direct return on investment to longer-term benefits.

This could be an excellent time to complete those tasks that, while important, never seem to make to the top of the ‘action list’, though remember, that it might not be possible to carry out these tasks during furlough leave.

Handling flexible working requests from staff members  

Data on the lasting effect of the move to completely remote working is varied – some studies state that employees have increased wellbeing and productivity when remote, whilst others have found that the exact opposite is true.

Yet one thing has become clear for many – it is definitely feasible, and this is now undeniable. So, it’s going to be much harder for employers to insist that employees work from the office. Managers would be wise to anticipate this debate, and decide how they will approach the theoretical shift in the perception of remote working.  

Carrying on home working to create more office space

In order to ease congestion in the workplace, you might actively consider whether a proportion of the workforce can continue with homeworking, at least for another few months.

You could prioritise this requirement for team members who are at greater risk of infection, or who have been advised to shield.

You should take this time to look back at your policies and ensure you have a flexible working policy and process in place to meet your legal responsibilities. If you have a policy, but it is rarely or never used, dust it off and take some time to train your managers on how to follow and implement it.

Employers should consider the impact of home working on the business, taking account normal productivity rates for departments and individuals versus the last two months.

Having this data ready and to hand before any requests come in will help speed up your response and ensure your decisions are factual and balanced.

Gaining feedback from line managers in terms of any hurdles or IT frustrations which have impacted on home working arrangements will also help. Gather information on specific employees – those who have thrived on this change in practise and those who have struggled.

Finally, take some time to question your own personal bias and perceptions of home working. There are some significant benefits – not least, the reduced need for large, expensive offices premises. 

We hope you have enjoyed this blog and found it useful. If you would like help with this or other HR and employment matters please get in touch.