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Returning to the Workplace as Lockdown Eases

Posted-on July 2020 By Amy Bates

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​The COVID-19 pandemic will be one of our time's greatest business challenges. The outbreak of the pandemic led to dramatic change, more confusion, and new challenges.

Health and Safety First

As lockdown eases, our working lives will change again. The health and safety of the workplace should be the top priority for companies, and once the workplace is reopened it is the responsibility of the management team to keep them safe. Making sure they are up to date with any new protocol in relation to deep cleansing, sanitisation, and office layout, and they must understand and ensure compliance with the government’s advice, as restrictions are eased.

When to bring back employees and who

Returning to the workplace could mean recalling furloughed employees, moving away from compulsory remote work, or moving back to full productivity irrespective of where work is being done. It possibly means a mix of all three for several businesses.

However, when devising strategies for getting their businesses going, it will most likely focus on getting employees back into the building that need to be really in the office or on the floor, as soon as it is safe and practicable.

Companies are faced with a challenge in determining exactly who their business-critical staff are. Some functions, such as sales or relationship management, which have traditionally been perceived as requiring face-to - face contact, will need to change in light of evolving health standards and consumer needs, as well as travel suitability for non-essential uses. Certain tasks obviously rely on the on-site equipment or technologies and without them can't be done effectively.

Looking at which roles ran smoothly when working remotely and which did not, can help in deciding which employees should be asked to return to the workplace. It makes sense to allow those who, while working remotely, had little effect on their productivity to continue doing so for the time being, to help reduce the headcount of the workplace, and to risk the health of the employee.

Managing employees to understand new changes

Management teams need to lead with empathy and show understanding, that although all their employees have experienced this crisis, not all have experienced it in the same way.

Some workers may have symptoms that increase their risk of a serious infection with COVID-19 and may be reluctant to return to their workplace. Others may be eager to return to the workplace, but they have care commitments that make it difficult or impossible for them to do so. So, sensitivity is a must.

Likewise, employees need to understand that companies will need time to adapt to new ways of working. Employees returning after an extended furlough or period of remote work may find their workplace's physical layout changed and their routine altered.

For office workers returning to a workplace, a change of attitude might be needed for those who have adapted to work remotely. To handle these changes, companies should ensure that workers understand what is being expected of them, and what measures are being taken by the company to protect their safety.

Adapting to the new rules and new ways of working will be a big change challenge for most companies, so management teams will need to communicate their strategy clearly in order to help employees who are returning to the workplace, as well as those continuing to work remotely.

Providing employees with the opportunity to express their concerns and challenges may help management teams identify potential problems with their plans to return to the workplace. Leaders can transform the COVID-19 crisis into an opportunity to improve company culture, increase employee engagement and boost efficiency and loyalty over the long term by allowing genuine, two-way communication.