Returning to work after COVID - what can employers do?

Wednesday 22nd July 2020

Returning to work after COVID - what can employers do?

a photo of the article author

Article By Jan Bailey

Returning to work after COVID - what can employers do?

The Coronavirus continues to be present in our communities and Government advice is still that, wherever possible, employees should stay working from home. However, as lockdown eases and mothballed businesses begin to re-open, more employees will be asked to come out of furlough or leave the safety and security of their home offices to resume their previous roles.

For some employees, this will be exactly what they’ve been waiting for. Others will have a more muted response or even be filled with dread. Whatever their reaction, what can employers do to ensure the transition is as smooth as possible for both parties?

Effective communication will be key. This should start before the employee returns to work and will explain what is happening and what is required, together with reassurances with regard to measures the company has taken to keep employees safe.

A sensitivity to the way employees may be feeling will be important. After more than three months of home working or furlough, they may be anxious about the risks involved in going out to work – particularly if they are in a public-facing role. As their employer, you will need to be aware of these feelings and explain the steps you have taken and the new rules that will apply to keep them safe. A good Employee Assistance Programme could also be very beneficial in addressing employees’ particular anxieties around their return.

There may be practical difficulties too in bringing your employees back to work. Most schools and colleges are still only operating a partial service – and all will shortly, or have already, closed for the summer holidays. Employers will need to balance the demands of the business and its customers with flexibility around their employees’ domestic responsibilities.

Coming back to work after three months, particularly if they’ve been on furlough, will mean a period of readjustment and settling in. Similar to when employees come back from maternity leave or long- term sickness, they may need significant support from their line manager to ease back into their role. Practical difficulties, such as remembering log in details, will certainly arise. But there will be other issues too as the employee tries to remember exactly what their job is or was!

Employers may also want to determine and communicate their policy in the event of any breaches of the new rules. There will inevitably be breaches – either inadvertent or deliberate – and it’s important to think about what will happen in these eventualities. You will need to be flexible as new rules are embedded and adjusted to cope with real life circumstances on the ground.

The lockdown happened swiftly back in March and with very little opportunity for employers to prepare. Conversely, we do have time to plan how and when to bring employees back and can do so at our own pace. This provides us with an excellent chance to take stock and review our working practices. It could be that some of the new ways of working developed during the lockdown are continued into the future, in particular flexible hours and home working.