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After a year of working from home, staggered shift patterns, furlough and intermittent closures, businesses can hopefully see the light at the end of the tunnel as the UK roadmap sets out some key dates to work towards for us to ‘unlock’ and ease restrictions.

   

For the majority of UK employees, particularly those in office-based roles, have been working from home for over a year now. It is likely that the transition back into the office could be a bumpy one. Employees will likely have different reactions to the lifting of restrictions and they may have differing views on the pandemic, their safety and prospects of returning to work.

   

Our Employment Law Team take a look at some of the issues that HR or Employers may need to tackle over the Summer and provide some tips to help make the shift back into the workplace a positive, healthy and safe process.

   

Returning to Work Anxiety

 

Returning to work anxiety is a very real phenomenon which will affect many people. On one hand employees will feel relieved to ‘get back to normal’ and be reunited with their colleagues, however many will have trepidation about returning to the office.

   

This may be because they have concerns over their health and safety in contracting the covid-19 virus but for others, the lack of social contact for the past year could have them feeling ‘behind’ or left out of the social banter they were previously used to. A year of working alone, perhaps with just the company of their pets or children for long periods of time can make being thrown back into the office feel quite daunting.

   

Employers should consider how they can make the transition smoother to make employees feel safe, welcome, and supported in their return.

   
  • Ensure employees are given plenty notice of when they are expected to return
  • Outline procedures they will need to follow so they know what to expect
  • Remind them of your covid policies
  • Consider whether a phased return would benefit all or some members of your workforce
  • Check if anyone has any specific concerns before returning to the office
  • Communicate regularly and monitor staff wellbeing
  • Use your Mental Health First Aider if you have one
   

Covid Procedures

 

We are not out of the woods yet and although most of your staff may be vaccinated before they return to the office, it is likely that some of your younger workforce may not have been called for their covid jabs yet, and others may have declined the vaccination or be living with vulnerable family members who are not vaccinated.

   

It is important not to get too carried away with bringing all your team together for drinks, parties, events, and training days. Although this may be tempting and seem like the perfect time to host a large corporate catch-up, the last thing your business needs is an outbreak soon after you reopen your doors.

   

The latest guidance may have changed since your last workplace was fully open to staff and the public. Ensure that you have all the relevant signage, PPE and social distancing aids in place around the workplace.

   

Be mindful that some of your staff will be feeling anxious about their health and have had over a year of practising social distancing, so make sure you have thought of everything before inviting them back to work.

   
  • Carry out a detailed audit before returning to work
  • Re-stock your cupboards with supplies such as sanitizer, paper towels, face coverings and disinfectant spray
  • Appoint a ‘Covid Champion’ if suitable, perhaps for larger organisations who can be the ‘go-to’ person for covid matters, feedback and implementing any changes
  • Ensure your procedures and policies are up to date with the latest guidance
  • Communicate your policies and procedures with the workforce
   

Adapting to New Working Procedures

 

Another big change for remote workers will be reverting to their previous ways of working. It is important to support staff through this change and ensure that any training or refreshments are given to support morale and maintain productivity.

   

Many workplaces have gone paperless during this time, which is great for the environment and can also aid smoother working processes. Employers should think about whether some processes should remain to help prolonged social distancing or handling of documents and also because they have worked with flexible working.

   

A lot can change for a business in the space of a year. If your working practices have changes considerably or you have adopted flexible working as a standard going forward then you need to reassess your workplace policies, handbooks and employment contracts.

   
  • Consider training sessions
  • Consider what changes to processes have been made or will continue post-pandemic
  • Ask staff if they need any additional support
  • Read through your suite of employment policies, processes and handbooks for required changes
  • Ensure your employment contracts are still fit-for-purpose
   

Employee going back to work after the pandemic lockdown with laptop and face mask

Motivating Staff

 

Some employers may find that they have a happy, motivated and thriving workforce who are delighted to be reunited in the workplace. Others may find that there are some bad habits to unpick, some difficult members of staff to deal with and a generally low mood due to poor mental health during lockdown.

   

Many businesses have been impacted financially by the pandemic, a large number have already made cutbacks in the form of redundancies and the opportunity for pay-increases, bonuses or lavish incentives may be out of the question whilst the business recovers. What can you do to motivate staff without eating into the budget?

   
  • Think about how you can boost morale in the workplace
  • Can you organise for some sessions on mindfulness, stress or mental health
  • Consider holding appraisals or informal one-to-one catch ups with employees
  • Organise team-building events – perhaps via Zoom, in the office or outdoors depending on the restrictions at the time of returning to work
  • Ensure that employees are thanked and praised for their hard work from home
   

Introducing New Recruits

 

Despite the numerous lockdown and economic challenges, many workplaces have seen changes in personnel over the last year.

   

It is important to communicate changes in structure, leavers, those who have moved departments, been promoted or gone on maternity/paternity leave. It is also imperative to give new recruits a warm welcome and introduce them to the wider team.

   

It can be daunting starting a new job without meeting your colleagues and peers face-to-face, so employers should make an effort to gel new team members into the fold, this may include.

 
  • Communicating personnel changes in a positive and concise manner
  • Welcoming new team members in a friendly and creative way
  • Ensuring new recruits have access to all the relevant training, as their role may be different once they are working from the office.
  • Making sure that they are familiarised with the office layout by giving them safe walk-throughs and details of office procedures, including health and safety matters such as fire drills etc.
   

Mental Health

 

The road may still be a long and winding one as the UK recovers from the impact of the covid-19 pandemic. It is important for HR professionals, business owners and employers to keep an ear to the ground on any changes in government guidance and to ensure they are following all protocols to protect their staff.

   

Protecting staff includes ensuring that their health & safety is addressed and that their mental health is supported. The mental health challenges that the country faces are vast, and employers have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments to support those who are struggling.

   
  • Consider using a mental health work plan / assessment
  • Formulate a plan with your mental health first aider, if you have one
  • If you do not have a workplace mental health first aider, consider training before you reopen your workplace
  • Know how to spot the signs of mental health struggles
  • Know where to signpost employees for further support
  • Consider a training session for your employees – Lamb Brooks can offer this service
 

Legal Support For Employers

 

Dealing with employee issues can be a minefield, but in these uncertain and ever-changing times, costly mistakes can be made.

   

If you are in need of some support, be it training, reviews of your employment policies, changes to your employment contracts or help with navigating difficult staff situations then please call the Employment Law Team who will be happy to help.

   

Call one of our employment lawyers, Karen Bristow or Hannah Lockyer, by contacting them on 01256 844888, email enquiries@lambbrooks.com or speak to our online chat assistant by clicking on the ‘chat now’ box at www.lambbrooks.com who can take your details and arrange for a call back.

   

Other Articles You May Be Interested in Reading:

No Jab, No Job: Can Employers Insist on Employee Vaccines?

Veganism in the Workplace: Employer’s Considerations

Furlough Scheme Extended Again

 

The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice.  The law may have changed since this article was published.   Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.