Office Return - Post Covid
As part of the Budget on 3 March 2021, the Chancellor announced that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS - Furlough), which was expected to end on 30 April 2021, will be extended across the UK until 30 September 2021. Many employees are now making a return to the workplace and recruiting teams to support the growth of business in a post pandemic world. Whilst this is positive for the economy, it has raised several concerns for the people looking for new roles or returning to an office environment due to a change in the businesses remote working needs.
The discussions we have with our clients (whether hiring or looking for a new role), have led us through the following discussion points which we wanted to share:
Conduct a COVID-19 risk assessment.
An employer knows their teams, how they work best and what environment they operate in. Risk assessments are a key factor in all areas of work and should be shared within your team to ensure everyone is aware of risk and safe to work. The following links are key for an employer to understand and good to know for and employee.
Covid 19 - guidance
Gov.uk Info - https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus-business-reopening
Prepare and implement policies and procedures.
With Covid variants still being a serious risk, it is on the minds of your employees and people you are looking to hire.
To help reassure teams and build confidence, the feedback from discussions is that it would be good to know the basics, such as:
• Guidance on individual’s responsibilities for cleaning and hygiene
• Requirements for wearing masks in/around the office.
• Guidance on the “one metre plus” social distancing rule when inside premises
• Guidance on reporting contact with someone with COVID-19
• Information on self-isolation and remote working rights
• Guidance and processes when not to come into work.
There is no legal obligation to formally consult employees about a return to the workplace but based on employment discussion we have been having it would help. Employees happy to return are the ones that have had open discussions regarding their situation and how they can reduce the concerns and understand that they are being addressed.
As an employer or when recruiting, its important to remember that empathy is key. Some people have had the toughest year of their life and need a reassuring approach to transition easier.
Travel to/from work.
This is likely to be a key concern for many employees as it is almost impossible – particularly in London – for most people to avoid public transport.
There is likely to be an avoidance of public transport use, so consider:
• An increase in biking to work – Think about safe bicycle storage & implementing a cycle scheme.
• An increase in vehicle use – Think about parking spaces for employees’ cars or car share schemes for the team.
• An increase in running or walking to work – Think about changing room facilities and locker storage for gear.
• An increase in remote working – Think about reducing office-based days – 2 days remote working seems to be the happy ratio point for those considering an office return.
• A want to avoiding peak travel risk – adjust working days/hours to minimise the risk of when commuting at peak times.
Those who were previously shielding, vulnerable and disabled employees.
Inclusion is important to us at Candi and we are passionate about reducing barriers and supporting people with any specialist requirement, be mindful of the needs of shielding or vulnerable employees. Those who are pregnant, disabled, elderly, or who have pre-existing medical conditions are at greater risk.
The risks of getting into the office are causing many reservations for individuals we have discussed this with.
For example, one individual with mobility issues, highlighted that due to restaurants using roads and pathways to provide dining opportunities, they cannot access many pathways and roads in central London at current.
The barriers are greater now then they ever have been!
An inclusive employer needs to recognise this and consult closely with their employees.
The timing of this flexibility will be ongoing and based on the individual’s risks and needs.
Refusal to return to the workplace.
Employers should consider all factors when requesting employees to come back to work or dismissing them because they do not.
It is bad for moral, it effects staff retention and could result in legal consequences.
This could result in businesses facing claims for unfair or constructive dismissal, or even whistleblowing and discrimination, particularly by those employees considered to be at greater risk of the impact of COVID-19.
In discussion, we have been told that some employers are reducing people’s wages if they choose to work remotely instead of return to a central London office. This has left individuals feeling penalised and persecuted for making choices based on health risks and they are actively considering a change in employment based on this.
If you can consult, be flexible, offer remote working or access support you are making reasonable adjustments and being considerate to your teams’ requirements.
Don’t forget those working from home.
Continuing the positive trend of open communication, transparency, and a sympathetic approach to employees.
• Don’t forget your remote workers. - Weekly supervisions and team catch-ups via zooms don’t need to end.
• Support your remote workers by continuing to offer these opportunities and social downtime with peers.
• We know this will take significant management time and effort, by managers who are themselves facing similar issues, but is critical in minimising the impact on engagement and retention of your amazing teams!