Returning to work: Support your employees back into the workplace

As the UK Government continues to work towards a sense of normality by easing some of its Coronavirus-related restrictions, the time has come for employers to start preparing for their employee’s transition back to the workplace.

While this is an exciting step towards restarting the economy and restoring people’s livelihoods, we’re still a way off from getting back to business as usual. Even when offices and workplaces are eventually reopened, it’s likely that we’ll all still have to continue adhering to some social distancing and increased hygiene measures.

There’s also employee wellbeing to consider. According to a recent YouGov poll, more than two-fifths of UK workers are anxious about the prospect of returning to work after the lockdown has been lifted. As an employer, it’s your responsibility to ensure that every member of your team feels safe by creating a work environment that has a strong focus on employee health and wellbeing.

To make sure your workplace is ready and raring to go once we emerge from lockdown, here are some practical steps you can start making right now to keep your teams safe and happy, whilst also limiting the spread of the virus.

Assess your workplace

According to Government guidelines, every workspace should conduct a COVID-19 risk assessment before letting any of their employees return. This will help you to establish exactly which guidelines you need to put in place, particularly when it comes to maintaining 2 metres distance between your employees.

You might find that you need to adjust the layout of your workspace to make this possible and consider creating one-way walking systems, opening additional exits and entrances and changing the seating layouts in meeting and break rooms. An additional measure to help your employees maintain a 2-metre distance would be to stagger their start and finish times and limit how many people attend meetings and training sessions.

If you find that it will be difficult to meet the 2-metre social distancing criteria, you should consider installing barriers in shared spaces, arrange desks so colleagues are always facing away from one another or creating a rota where employees have set shifts.

You should also take an itinerary of the supplies you have in your workplace. You should have an abundance of hand soap, hand sanitiser and disposable hand towels and continue to encourage regular hand washing amongst your team. If your team is now required to wear PPE, such as face masks, when they return to work, you also need to ensure that there is a healthy supply ready and waiting for your employees to use.

Organise a deep clean

 If nobody has stepped foot in your office or workplace for a while, it’s advised that you arrange for it to be deep cleaned before you start letting your employees return. This can help to reduce any feelings of anxiety your employees might be feeling about cleanliness and hygiene within the workplace.

Your cleaning team must be provided with disposable aprons and gloves, which once used should be double-bagged and stored for at least 72 hours. After this period, they can be thrown away with your regular workplace waste. Cleaning teams should also be reminded to wash their hands thoroughly once they remove their gloves and aprons.

You’ll also need to reinforce a continuous cleaning programme or rota going forward too. Government guidelines have stated that workplaces should be cleaned more frequently, paying close attention to high-contact objects such as keyboards, door handles and phones. High traffic areas such a reception and break rooms, should also be given extra attention when cleaned.

Monitor your employee’s mental health

It’s an uncertain time for many of us right now and it’s likely that some of your employees will be experiencing a range of emotions as a result, from upset to fear to frustration. So, as well as prioritising your team’s physical health in your return to work planning, you should also be making their mental health a priority too.

Start booking in one-to-one meetings with each and every one of your employees, including those who are furloughed, to discuss any concerns they might be having in relation to lockdown and returning to the workplace. Listen carefully to their concerns and consider how you and the business can offer your support. This could include developing a wellness action plan, arranging counselling sessions or making changes to how they work.

Don’t forget about your vulnerable employees

As much as you might want to get your team back working together in one place again, there’s a chance that this may still not be possible for some of your more vulnerable employees who may still be self-isolating. To prevent these employees from feeling secluded and lonely as their colleagues return to the workplace, you should consider ways in which you can increase connectivity with them. The simplest way of achieving this is through regular video calls- whether they be work-related or a team social event.

For employees who might have suffered the loss of a family member or friend during the lockdown, you might find that they are not emotionally ready to return to work just yet. While there is no statutory right to bereavement leave, businesses should be sympathetic and understanding towards requests for additional time off. If you feel your vulnerable employees are really struggling right now, consider organising wellness options, such as bereavement counselling or anxiety therapy which can be delivered by video, email or phone.

There’s definitely a lot to think about when it comes to preparing for your team to get back to business as usual. But the more planning you do now will ensure that your business has a smooth and simple transition period that puts employee wellbeing at its forefront.

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Jon Weavell

12th June