Guidance on getting back to work post Covid

As the vaccination programme rolls out, we now have a roadmap of timings and a likely process to get the UK opening up as we get Covid-19 under control (see government guidance on the steps out of lockdown here).

Whilst the road back to normality remains subject to review, now is the time to start developing plans to get staff back to the workplace.

Rolling back from lock down working practices

During the lockdown, a more flexible approach to working has become the norm for many businesses, with staff working from home, and hours flexing to accommodate childcare, home teaching and other care responsibilities.

Whilst the route to return to the workplace is now opening up, many have been surprised at the effectiveness of the working practices which became a necessity for business survival.

Businesses should anticipate an influx of flexible working requests from staff as the lockdown eases, so now is the time to think about what can be learned from this experience, and decide whether and to what extent to adopt some of the flexible practices which have proven to be effective and beneficial.

Firstly, assess the benefits of flexible working:

Flexible working can take many forms; it’s not just about part-time working and job sharing. Flexible working can be achieved through use of, or combination of, home-working, compressed working hours, annualised hours contracts, term-time working arrangements, sabbaticals and/or career breaks, or gradual retirement opportunities.

There are many benefits from working from home, including a better work–life balance, greater ability to focus, more time for family and friends, saved commuting time and costs, IT upskilling and higher levels of motivation. Adapting now with more flexible forms of working may reduce the risk of increased employee turnover, and improve employee engagement and ability to attract talent in the future. Agile working also provides other opportunities in terms of reducing office costs and supporting diversity and inclusion, it could also lead to reduced absence rates.

Business leaders need to consider their appetite and ability to manage a more flexible/agile workforce going forward.  You know your people and needs best but certainly some element of coming into the office or workplace for team working and shared identity continues to be essential, and most research would indicate that this has been missed during the past 12 months, so a blended approach is a likely solution.

What might flexible working look like for your business? 

Points to consider include:

  • Do you want people still coming in to the office 5 days a week, or fewer days,
  • If there is room for home working, how many days and is that everyone or just a few?
  • Do you want your staff coming in for “head down” work or just for team meetings and interactions?
  • Many people may ask to work from home on Mondays and Fridays – but the office may need to be staffed these days so think about a rota or team basis for days in the office.
  • Do any of your business’ Policies or Procedures need to be amended to accommodate flexible working – for example staff business expenses, data and IT security.

Keep in mind that it will be difficult to row back from any changes agreed as they will become contractual

Employees with at least 26 weeks' continuous employment have the right to make a statutory request, in writing, for flexible working, for any reason. If an employer wishes to reject a statutory request, it can only do so on specific grounds. 

Formal flexible working requests once accepted change the contract of employment to the new terms.

Think about the physical environment in your workplace and ensure that its safe:

Once you have decided on your approach, clearly communicate your plans:

When it comes to communicating, don’t assume anything.  Be absolutely clear about what the “new rules” are for working. Here is a checklist for points to include in your staff communications:

  • When staff will return to the workplace including details if there is to be a phased return with some staff returning before others
  • What does post-lockdown working look like in your offices?
  • What are your expectations of staff?
  • Where do they need to be, when and why?
  • How is health and safety being reviewed and managed – share the latest risk assessment
  • Any planned adjustments to the workplace, for example additional hand washing facilities, staggering start and finish times to avoid overcrowding or floor markings to help people stay apart
  • Has the structure changed? If staff are coming off furlough or part furlough are they going back into the identical role or has it changed?
  • Do any recent joiners need a buddy to manage the transition from remote working to agile or office based?
  • Set out who (or which role types) is eligible for agile working, and explain how to request agile working
  • Clarifying roles and responsibilities for agile workers and people managers. 
  • Issue any updated Policies (expenses, IT, data protection)

Also think about any other stakeholders who may benefit from being informed about your future working model, for example customers and suppliers, and ensure they are included in your communication plans.

The Covid emergency has been the catalyst for rapid change and innovation in business practices. As we start to see a light at the end of the tunnel with a return to less restricted working, now is the time to think about what has been leaned over the last year, and how this can make a positive difference to your business effectiveness in the future.