As the UK gradually eases its COVID-19 lock down restrictions and people are starting to return to an office environment, an increasing number of businesses are grappling with the issue of just how to allow their staff to come back safely and with confidence. While government guidance states that people who can work from home should continue to do so, each company will have some employees who are ready and willing to return. Just last week, Director General of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), commented: “Although we know that office workers can work from home, we are increasingly hearing from firms who are saying that they have people who want to go back.”
So how can organisations reassure their employees that it’s safe for them to return to the workplace? Here are three ways that employers can achieve this:
Consult with your workforce
A good place to start is by asking your employees directly when and how they’d like to go back to the office. An anonymous survey that allows staff to voice their true thoughts and feelings without fear of any negative repercussions will provide employers with vital information that can inform their plans for reorganizing work patterns and the office layout. Some workers will want to go back full-time, others will prefer to be in the office two or three days a week and some may not feel ready to return at all. You may need to stagger return times so that the workplace doesn’t become overcrowded and social distancing can be maintained. Allowing people to start earlier than normal or to finish later will also ensure that commuters can avoid peak travel times.
Rearrange your office layout
Employees should be encouraged to adhere to the two metres/one metre plus social distancing rules at all times, so office desks will have to be moved further away from one another and shared spaces, such as meeting rooms, may need to be closed. Some firms might have to go further and adopt social distancing signage measures to help guide pedestrian flow. To reduce the risk of the virus spreading between employees, employers should reduce the amount of shared equipment and install panels between desks. Once employees return to the workplace, it’s a good idea to provide them with a guided tour of their new environment, clearly explaining how the changes that have been made are designed to protect their health and well-being.
Keep communication channels open
It’s only natural for some, if not all, of your staff to be nervous about returning to a familiar space that will now appear slightly alien. It’s crucial that managers allow workers to raise any issues they may have, and that those concerns are seen to be taken seriously. Employers should listen out for suggestions that staff make regarding improving the safety of the office and act on them, where appropriate, as quickly as possible. Over-communicate with your employees to keep them reassured and maintain their engagement, and don’t forget to recognize and reward them on a regular basis.
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