The Coronavirus driven lockdown began in Europe with Italy leading the way on 9th March and the UK following on the 23rd. The first restrictions began to be lifted on the Continent on April and while there’s no doubt that remote working will remain in place for many, they are now cautiously being lifted for businesses here in London and across the nation. In this article we provide our top tips on returning to work after the Covid-19 lockdown, so you can better understand the changes you may need to make in the workplace, to ensure your people can return and work safely.
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Life post pandemic…our top tips on returning to work after Covid-19 lockdown
In this post we’re going to provide our top tips on returning to work after Covid-19 lockdown, so that you and your team can make a safe and successful transition back to the workplace. In this article you’ll discover:
Why planning is paramount
The health and safety of your team and any visitors you may have to your business premises should be your number one priority.
Right at the outset, it’s likely you will not need all your people to return all at once. After all, business may be slow to start with as the economy recovers. Your best way forward might be to begin by asking who would be willing to come back to work voluntarily; after months of inactivity some may be keen and ask to come back anyway. However, no matter how many employees you need to return to the workplace, effective planning is key to a safe and smooth transition back. Here we’ve broken planning down into more easily digestible sections:
Core planning and implementation team
It makes sense to set up a senior management team to plan the transition back to the workplace. The situation is constantly under review by government so this team’s responsibilities should include monitoring and implementing evolving government guidance.
Returning to work after Covid-19 plan
There will be many things to consider as part of your returning to work plan – especially in relation to being able to implement social distancing measures. How could you help your team to avoid travelling, especially on public transport, during the busy commuting periods? Who could and should remain remote workers? Can you fairly implement a rota, cohort or ‘bubble’ system to allow staff to work alternate shifts? How might you develop a phased return to the workplace, perhaps allowing people to initially work shorter hours? Are there areas of your operation where staff could work alone and, if so, would this be practical or fair? What about the work/life balance of your team?
Clearly, there are many new and alternative working methodologies you could adopt, so consider yours carefully. Once you’ve chosen the way forward, you should also consider whether any additional staff training or equipment is needed.
Discussion, consultation and communication will play an important role in getting your team onboard with your plans, so devise an appropriate communications plan to keep everyone fully informed. This should also provide them with a conduit for feedback and raising any concerns and can be used to ensure everyone is aware of disinfection, reporting, self-isolation and other requirements.
Information should ideally be communicated to your team before they return to work through e-mail, video conferencing or online training. After their return and to cover updates, you could use everything from staff notice boards and the organisation’s intranet to verbal briefings.
Additional training, information and support for your managers on your return to work after Covid-19 will help them to handle staff queries and concerns and enforcement of policies.
Plan for employee pay, wellbeing and welfare concerns
It’s a cliché but we are still going through a truly unprecedented period, not just here in London but across the UK and world.
It will be no surprise then for your returning staff to be anxious and concerned about re-entering the workplace. They may well have genuine fears about infection and people’s mental health could have been impacted. So have a plan in place to alleviate their concerns, especially about factors such as pay during continued absences or periods of flexible working. Also consider if additional support is required for your people through this unsettling period.
Plan for health and safety inspections in the future
As a responsible employer you should make sure you have robust evidence of Health & Safety (H&S) compliance in place, so it can be readily provided if and when your Covid-19 measures are inspected in the future as part of any H&S audit. In short, establish a procedure for responding to any such audits in a clear, compliant and timely manner.
How assessment and analysis drives appropriate action
Returning to work after Covid-19 lockdown safely and successfully requires you to assess, analyse and review every aspect of your business – from where it’s based to what it does – with a critical eye and all in line with the current HSE guidance. Some of the topics you should include in any assessment and review include:
Assess your premises
Before allowing any member of staff to return to your workplace you should undertake a site survey to ensure the working environment is safe. This might include but is not limited to a general evaluation of the place encompassing a review of fire safety measures and water systems (to manage the risk of Legionella bacteria) as well as statutory inspections on certain items of equipment and machinery (such as lifts or tools) which may have expired during the closure of business operations.
Assess your existing operational model
In our post-Covid-19 world, ‘Because that’s the way we’ve always done it’ is not going to fly. Instead, take a close look at your existing operational and employment models to assess what is still appropriate in the ‘new normal’ and beyond.
You could include a number of factors in this review, from roles, hours, location and flexible working to terms and conditions of employment and any other policies you have in place. Carefully consider the legal position of any working arrangements you decide to revise and whether more detailed communication, consultation and consent (particularly with any appropriate trade unions) should be part of any review and replacement process.
It’s crucial to carry out and implement risk assessments in line with HSE guidelines to comply with your duty of care as your people return to work. Ensure that your assessment and implementation measures are tailored to your business and its working environment. Take account of all the legal requirements and guidance, including those regarding social distancing, the provision of PPE, hygiene and cleaning and any additional measures for vulnerable workers.
Don’t forget to include the security of your IT infrastructure and data in your risk assessments, especially where staff have used your technology (such as laptops or mobile phones) and accessed your business network while working remotely.
Finally, it makes sense to share the results of your various assessments with your people so they have a clear picture of the workplace they’re returning to and be confident you have been thorough and have their best interests at heart.
The importance of putting safety first
In recent months we’ve all become very used to social distancing, seeing personal protective equipment (PPE) being worn and regularly washing or sanitising our hands. As the health and safety of your people must be your first priority, these measures are all going to be part of the ‘new normal’ of your premises as people return to them. Here we consider each in more detail:
Maintaining your team’s trust, confidence and cooperation during this challenging time and putting in place clear, actionable social distancing measures will be one of the most visible aspects of that.
You may need to erect barriers between workspaces in open plan offices or separate staff out so that they can maintain a distance of 2m between them. If you can’t achieve social distancing, you may have to consider a rota, shift or ‘bubble’ system that means people have sufficient safe space around them while at work.
Don’t forget that social distancing will also be important in confined spaces, such as meeting rooms, communal areas, corridors, toilets lifts, and even company vehicles.
Other practical steps you could take to maximise safe social distancing and minimise the risk of infection transmission for your team and visitors might include:
- Having separate entrances and exits
- Putting up signs to remind people of social distancing guidance, *avoiding sharing workstations
- Using floor tape or paint to mark out areas to help people keep a 2m distance
- Arranging one-way traffic through the workplace
- Only seeing visitors by appointment
If you find social distancing difficult to implement, you should do everything practical to manage the transmission risk by considering whether:
- An activity needs to continue for the business to operate
- The time involved in that activity can be made as short as possible
- Using screens or barriers to separate people from each other would work
- Back-to-back or side-to-side working is possible
- Limiting the number of people able to be in an area or room at the same time (particularly toilets, for example) is possible
- Staggering arrival and departure times or adopting a shift or ‘bubble’ working system would help minimise risk.
More broadly, you may have to consider the provision of anything your team shares that might heighten the potential for the spread of the infection. These range from crockery, cutlery and facilities like kettles, coffee machines, microwaves and fridges right through to staff canteens.
Personal protective equipment (PPE)
If you’re going to provide PPE, do ensure it meets the health and safety standards appropriate to your business and operations, is suitable for the work activities your team undertakes and fits correctly. It’s worth making sure you have sufficient stock in-house before your team returns to the workplace and that the right stock levels can be maintained.
With regard to the use of PPE – particularly masks – be aware of, and sensitive to, cultural and health issues that may make their wearing problematic.
Hand washing and sanitising and cleaning
Your returning team will be greatly comforted and encouraged by the provision of hand sanitising equipment, disinfectant wipes, plenty of soap and hand drying facilities and the implementation of a new, regular and deep cleaning regime.
You can enhance this further by placing reminder signs around the premises and implementing the cleaning and disinfecting of objects and surfaces that are touched and used regularly – such as keyboards, desktops and telephones, for example – especially in busy areas.
Screening measures and other tests and checks
We may still be awaiting the development and widespread availability of contact tracing technology, antibody testing and vaccines but measures such as temperature checking are available now. It’s important to note that if and when you decide to use these (whether voluntary or mandatory) you should ensure that appropriate processes are in place to cover training, security of data, privacy and confidentiality and procedures for denying entry to the workplace based on results and reporting.
Plus, if any member of staff should show any of the common signs of Covid-19 (or in any member of their household does) they must self-isolate at home for 14 days.
Remember that if you have staff travelling to and from international destinations, restrictions vary around the world. What’s more, as this was published the UK had inbound quarantine rules in place.
Finally, while we’re on this subject, it would make sense for you to check your business insurance policies to verify your cover and see if it includes employees contracting Coronavirus.
Why it’s important to remain vigilant
The situation regarding Covid-19 is still volatile, is constantly under review by the UK government and their guidance is likely to change at short notice, especially if we suffer a spike or second wave.
What’s more, every business and every sector is different, so what you decide to do will vary according to the needs of your enterprise and your people.
To conclude this article, it’s important to ensure any measures you take to help your team return to work are lawful, reasonable, fair and applied consistently. As we’re sure you’ll understand, we are not a law firm and we do not provide legal advice. This article is for information only and you should consult with your own legal experts for advice most appropriate to your business, its operation and the wellbeing of your people.
We are, however, highly expert and experienced specialists in IT support, services and security, including the delivery of those solutions remotely. So if you’d like a confidential, no obligation discussion about the support and security of your IT as your team heads back to the workplace, why not call London’s go to remote IT support service providers? You’ll soon discover why we’ve been awarded consecutive Feefo Gold Trusted Service Awards in the last two years, Five Star ratings from both Trustpilot and Google and a 98% client retention rate.