Returning to work: what to consider as you bring employees back to the workplace

As lockdown eases, more people are returning to work. For many, this is a significant and potentially anxiety-inducing step. As a business leader, it’s important that everyone on your team feels comfortable about the return to work.

To help make the transition as smooth as possible, we’ve put together our own guide on how to bring your team back to the workplace. As well as making the workplace physically safe, supporting the mental wellbeing of staff as they return is equally important. Here are some of our tips to help you determine the right way to open your working space.

Back to work guidance

Any back-to-work plan needs to acknowledge the profound changes to ways of working as a result of COVID-19. This is likely to have a longer term impact on how we all work, with research showing that three-quarters of employees want to continue working remotely more frequently. Any plan will need to be based on the latest government guidelines, and you’ll need to be relatively flexible. As we’ve learned, circumstances may result in government guidelines changing unexpectedly.

All plans should include a robust hygiene management protocol that identifies risks and touchpoints in your working environment. You’ll likely need to have a phased return by introducing a small percentage of the team to test any new procedures. Once you’ve assessed whether these work, you can start a more formal reopening.

Empowering and managing your team

One thing that shouldn’t be overlooked is clear communication with your team. They should be kept in the loop so there are no surprises and everyone feels comfortable about what’s happening. Anonymous employee surveys are a good way to collect honest feedback, which will be crucial for a smooth transition back to work.

As changes to furlough come into effect and you start bringing staff back, it’s important these changes are recorded in your accounts. We’re continuously updating Xero Payroll with new features to support changes to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. We’re currently working on a solution that enables you to record flexi furlough, and we’ll be in touch with more updates on this soon. In the meantime, you can find out more via our FAQs on recording furlough leave in Xero Payroll.

Supporting mental wellbeing

Supporting your team’s mental wellbeing is key for a successful return-to-work plan. Our partners at Unmind have put together a handy list:

  1. Provide certainty: Provide certainty around your company’s return-to-work plans and the role each member of staff will play. This will help reduce anxiety for them in one area of their life and allow them to make plans for the future.
  2. Manage losses of freedom: Returning to the workplace ultimately means less time to spend with loved ones and on hobbies, which is something most of us have become accustomed to during lockdown. Consider whether you can offer to retain some of that freedom in your new working structure.
  3. Capitalise on the humanity we’ve gained: Work relationships will have changed during lockdown both for better or worse. Catching glimpses of each other’s personal lives help to forge open and authentic connections. Capitalise on that by identifying new working relationship dynamics.
  4. Signpost your support systems: Normalise the fact that current circumstances will impact mental health and signpost the available support to your entire workforce so that everyone knows who they can turn to.

Tips from the Xero community: Papersmiths

Papersmiths is a design-driven stationery store with five shops, including branches in Brighton and London, and online. All of the physical stores shut when lockdown began, and Founder Sidonie Warren focussed on driving online sales – with quarter two e-commerce sales up 415% on the same period last year. She’s gradually re-opened stores and started bringing back the team using the flexi furlough scheme.

“The stores are back open, but we’re taking safety very seriously and limiting customers to four at a time. It’s helpful to have stickers on the floor and plenty of signage to remind customers to keep distance and follow any guidelines. Glass screens at till points also keep our staff and shoppers safe when interacting. While takings are down in the stores, I’m thankful we’ve managed to keep online orders up and we’ve seen a big increase in local support,” says Sidonie.

Visit our dedicated site for more resources, webinars and inspirational stories to help you emerge stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic.


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