The Next Normal – Six key challenges to consider when returning to the workplace

As the UK starts the easing of lock-down and the gradual return to work, we already know that we won’t be returning to “life as we knew it”. Instead, we will be adjusting to the “next normal” – with changes in the way we have to run our businesses and potentially increased requests for flexible working.

But will returning to the workplace be more complex than the lock-down?

The last few weeks have been challenging for all of us. We have had to quickly understand very new concepts, make very difficult decisions at pace, get to grips with remote working, and support employees who may be struggling. Whilst we have adapted and implemented workforce plans (at least for the short term), the gradual easing of lock-down encourages us to consider how things will be in the “next normal”. When it comes to returning to the workplace, the reintegration may prove to be just as challenging, if not more so, than the lock-down.

With that in mind, we have outlined six key challenges to consider when planning the return of your workforce

1. Managing the return of employees

How will you handle the return of employees? At the moment, only those whose roles require them to be in the office/workplace should return. With others who can work remotely, continuing to do so. But, deciding which employees are essential to restart on-site activities will be difficult. Some employees may be very keen to return, and others less so.

A couple of options are:

  • Split teams whereby some employees attend the workplace for one week, and the second team attend for the second week
  • Mixed remote working with limited time in the office

2. Health and safety

What measures do you need to put in place to ensure the safety of those returning to the workplace? Social distancing is likely to be around for some time yet, but this will be easier to implement in some industries and in some roles. Consider the following:

  • How will you maintain social distancing?
  • How will you ensure sanitisation of shared spaces?
  • Will you need to provide any PPE to staff?

3. Mental Health

For some people, the prospect of returning to work may be even more worrying than being at home. Some employees may be very anxious about using public transport, being in close proximity with colleagues or just having to resume a “normal” working day. As an employer, consider the following:

  • Create a clear communication plan to alleviate concerns by setting out what you plan to do to help staff
  • Implement a comprehensive support programme to help those who are struggling to deal with the return to the workplace.

4. Salary

If you introduced measures such as salary reductions or deferrals as a result of the economic impact of the pandemic, you will need to decide if these measures remain necessary. And, if so, for how long. Employees who may have reluctantly agreed to these arrangements while under lock-down, may be more likely to challenge these once they are asked to return to a more normal working pattern.

You will need to justify any decisions to prolong existing or to put in place new measures, ensuring people are properly informed (and, where necessary, consulted with) to ensure there is a clear understanding of the rationale.

5. Flexibility

For most, the lock-down has had the benefit of a greater acceptance of remote working, embracing a time of flexibility. We have all found, thanks to technology, there’s a significant amount that can be done virtually rather than face-to-face. Be aware of the following however:

  • Some workers may feel that they need to be physically present in the workplace to justify their role and avoid any anticipated redundancies
  • How will returning to the workplace impact those who need flexibility? Particularly those with carer responsibilities (which may well have increased in light of the pandemic)?

6. Preparing for local lock-down

Local lock-downs will start to be introduced in areas as part of the NHS test and trace system, to suppress the spread of COVID-19. Make sure your business is prepared with both a business continuity and a business contingency plan. (Contact us if you would like a copy of the guidance we sent out a few weeks ago.) Having good plans in place will ensure you can open, close or maintain your business at short notice.

Reintegration after lock-down is an exciting prospect, but we all need to manage the process effectively, responsibly and supportively.

For more information about how we can help you adapt to the “next normal”, get in touch!