Post Covid-19: The practicalities of returning to work

Amy Owens

Written By Pat Ashworth, Director of Learning Solutions, AdviserPlus

4th August 2020

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You may well have had to take on additional recruits during the lockdown to support ongoing operations and in our Managing Frontline Workers webinar we talked about the dynamics of a new team. It’s worth considering this again and the actions you can take at the end of lockdown to support their smooth integration into the team.

Onboarding New Team Members

Joining a new team can be scary and doing this without the benefit of face to face interactions can add to the challenge. If you have had to manage new starters virtually or over the phone , the end of lockdown will be your opportunity to support them with finding their feet quickly. We know that people who leave the businesses in the first 12 months after joining often do so because something wasn’t right in recruitment and induction, so there is a real benefit in putting the effort into this.

It is relatively easy to delegate tasks virtually – but the art of a good induction is far more than that. In bringing people into the business our main aim is to get them to ‘stick’ and that is far more about human interaction, making people feel part of a team and part of achieving the shared goals.

Start as you mean to go on, get some face-to-face meetings in with them as soon as you can (social distancing rules permitting) and get to know them a bit. Find out what makes them tick, listen to any concerns they have and explain a bit about how you like to work. Keep it informal and find out what may have been missed from the usual induction you would give. Make a promise to get that sorted and keep your promise.

You’ll need to help them to form part of the team quickly – especially if their first few weeks of working have been remote, so encourage a buddy system if you can – teaming them up with a more experienced member of staff can be really helpful.

Make sure you check in with them regularly in the early days. Just a short informal catch up to see how they are getting on helps to build a trusting relationship between you.

The psychological element of the return to work for many people is vital, but, you also need to think about the practicalities this change may throw up. Here are a few general considerations to take into account when planning the return to work.

The practicalities – returning to work

Firstly, public transport may be limited as operators follow government guidelines and try to limit the amount of people travelling at the same time. This means you may need to show flexibility around start and finish times for your team.

If you haven’t done so already, consider a quick set of questions sent by email or on the telephone for returners so you can establish what will be possible. Ask them when they believe they can get to work and what hours they can do. Accept that this may change – unfortunately public transport may not be reliable.

If, and when the government deems it safe, you could also think about setting up a car share scheme and ask people to liaise with their colleagues on it. If you have a cycle to work scheme going, remind people of the option of using bikes to get there.

Think about how people will enter and exit the building. If rules on social distancing still apply, you may need to think about staggering start and end times or using different doors for entry and exit, if you have the space. Not everything will be possible, especially if you are a small business or work in homes for example, but you can still make sure staff are aware of what action you are taking. Even small things like ensuring hand washing facilities and antibacterial gel are available will help people to feel less at risk.

As this further change happens, working parents will need to look again at childcare. For example, although there is a plan to reopen schools in September, some older family members may need to shield, limiting the network of support some parents rely on. As you will have had to do during lockdown you will need to look at the bigger picture and establish what people can do and try to show flexibility within the parameters of business need. If the option to remain working at home can work for both parties, it may be a good interim measure for you.

Plan as best you can

As this pandemic has progressed, for many of us, it has been a case of carrying on as best we can and often that has meant dealing with what is in front of us rather than planning. As things return to normal, we will hopefully find more time to think longer term. If you have employees on long term sick that you have not been able to meet with during the crisis, make plans to pick up on welfare visits.

In our blog, How HR managers can support colleagues’ return to work, we discussed the impact of a period away from work on our engagement and motivation as well as our mental health, so not only will welfare visits be the right thing to do, they may also help the employee get back to work sooner.

Also think about your maternity leavers – give them an update on where the business is at and what it might look like when they return.

It’s likely that several your team now have a backlog of holidays that they haven’t taken during lockdown. Once the return to work is underway, it’s also unlikely that you will be able to agree to many requests coming through for the same dates and keep the operation going.

If people are likely to still return to work with holidays to use up, decide what system you will use to prioritise requests – will you use first come first served or ask for all requests and pick out of a hat? Holidays mean a lot to people and can be a source of upset when requests are declined so make sure you are really clear about whatever method you choose and why you are doing it. Let people know when you expect them to be able to take holidays, if they can’t currently and stick to this as much as you can.

Going forward, although there will be challenges for us as employers, there will also be opportunities to reconnect with people and maybe even a new sense of gratitude for the normal things in life we previously took for granted. If you can, and if government advice allows, remember to celebrate this with your colleagues and look at all that you have achieved!

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