Back To Work: Questions All Employers Should Ask Before Commencing Business as Usual

Many businesses are preparing to go back to work; however, during a pandemic, it’s not as simple as telling your staff to return to the office. Some considerations and precautions need to be put in place before we can even begin to consider business as usual. Employers have a responsibility and duty to keep their employees safe, which is even more paramount in times such as these.

While for many businesses going back to work is a lifeline, priorities have changed and some restrictions, new procedures and guidelines must be put in place if going back to work is to be a viable option. Health and safety, well-being, and even getting to and from work will be huge issues. They will cause concern amongst employees, their families and even the general public in many instances.

We cannot merely rush going back to business. Before we can expect employees to return to work, employers must first implement a clear and robust procedure no matter what industry or sector. This will instil a feeling of confidence amongst workers and make going back to normal a little less daunting for everyone.

We’ve compiled a list of things which should be considered before opening the doors to your business once more and the questions you should be asking before rushing back to the workplace.

Is it essential for employees to be in the workplace? 

Across the globe, countries have been in lockdown for weeks. While this has been detrimental for some businesses; others have been able to carry on as normal with a remote workforce and the help of technology. If you are one of the lucky ones that have maintained business as usual, why change? Don’t put employees lives at risk unless you have to. It’s much safer to be at home, and while Zoom meetings may not be ideal, it’s the safe and more sensible option right now.

How will you welcome employees back?

After such strange and emotional times, you can’t expect employees to walk through the door, sit at a desk and get on. They need reassurance that they’re safe at work, and new safety procedures must be made clear. Have managers meet employees on a one to one basis to address any concerns they have, even with issues outside of the workplace and make sure they’re happy with new rules. This will help boost employee experience as they’ll feel supported. Also consider a safe, socially distanced briefing or even an email if this isn’t possible which clearly outlines any changes in the workplace.

Can staff maintain a safe 2m distance?

In some offices keeping the recommended 2m distance between staff is almost impossible; there’s not enough space. Employers need to assess their spaces and work stations to evaluate whether their employees can return to work safely or not. Place any markings where necessary and move desks or workstations as part of your office preparations. You must also consider how to conduct internal meetings safely (external meetings should be kept to video calls where possible) as well as how you manage communal spaces, kitchens and dining rooms. If you hot desk it may be time to instigate a formal seating plan.

If the recommended distance can’t be reached, alternative measures need to be put in place such as staggering working hours, having some departments working from home and video meetings.

Will you need to stagger working hours?

For many businesses where space is an issue, staggering working hours can ensure employees are safe and reduce the amount of contact. Whether you have different departments working in the office on different office, have morning employees and afternoon employees or even rotate week by week will depend entirely on the nature of your business. However, it’s a great thing to consider as it can ease employees back to work as usual, provide less exposure to the virus and help to provide flexibility at a time when it could be needed most. Remember, remote working is still an option even if the office is back up and running.

Will flexible working remain?

For a while, many businesses may have to give their employees more flexibility. Schools will not be back to full time for many students which will raise issues for childcare; transport systems may still be reduced which makes getting to work difficult for some and so some leniency will be expected. Employees have proven they can work remotely, and businesses may have to stagger the number of employees in the office at one time anyway, so be open-minded to flexibility and take some of the pressure off.

What happens to furloughed employees?

According to the latest reports at the time of writing, the UK government are considering extending the furlough scheme until October. This gives employers time to consider reinstating departments and teams as well as a chance to get back on their feet financially without losing their talented people. Employers have a duty to their staff, even those that are furloughed and bringing those employees back to work when it’s safe and financially manageable should be a priority.

The UK government have also suggested they will be able to top up the wages of furloughed employees brought back to work on a temporarily part-time basis.

How many of your staff members need to take public transport?

In the UK it’s recommended that we avoid public transport, and a similar message applies across the globe. Using public transport puts individuals using it at risk of exposure to the virus, and therefore the same applies to the rest of your office if you expect employees to commute on trains, buses and trams. Talk to your team and assess how many people need to use public transport to access the office; these individuals may be able to continue working remotely until it’s safe.

Do you have the correct hygiene procedures in place?

A deep clean of every working environment, including smaller details like keyboards and equipment, is essential before anyone returns to work. Ensure you disinfect and have a sterile environment from the get-go.

Washing hands, providing hand sanitiser and disinfecting workspaces will be just as vital when returning to work as they were before the lockdown. Make sure you have sufficient supplies so that employees can sanitise workstations and keep to hygiene regulations for a safer workplace. Expecting individuals to return to work without the correct cleaning equipment and hygiene products is reckless and will have detrimental effects on your employer brand and will lead to scared and unproductive employees.

Do you have access to the appropriate PPE?

Depending on your working environment, you may need to consider providing additional PPE, including gloves, masks or anti-viral hand gel. If your businesses deals with the public or a large number of people, this is essential. Plus, workers may feel more comfortable wearing gloves and masks even in the office. All employers should provide or at least allow the use of PPE if it offers comfort to employees. Therefore, you may need to think about training staff on the correct usage as PPE can be ineffective if misused.

Can you support your employees psychologically?

You may be considering going back to business as usual; however, the world outside if far from normal. Employees are nervous about going to work, anxious about being out in public and stressed about issues such as childcare, financial problems and the health of themselves or loved ones. Many have been through a period of loneliness, illness and other mental strains caused by this strange situation. In a worst-case scenario, your employees could be grieving. Employers need to be supportive. Talk to employees about their issues, provide support services or at least have a list of services available for them to contact. Open and caring company culture is more vital than ever as tensions will be high.

A clear procedure for returning to work is vital, and each industry will face its own challenges and concerns as the pandemic continues. Hopefully, these questions provide a starting point for considering returning to work as usual. Employee safety must be a priority for all, and government guidelines and safety measures must always be met. Ensure being back at work is essential for business continuity, and if your staff can’t work remotely, health and safety is paramount. If you aren’t taking care of your employees now, it could seriously damage your reputation as an employer for years to come.