Return to work conversations

In Uncategorized on July 28, 2021 at 10:31 am

We recommend that employers instigate a discussion with staff about their working environment and any new measures post-pandemic working.

Over recent months many employees have worked from home. Some mixed homeworking with attending the office. Some working teams have been bubbled to minimise and reduce the risk of exposure to Covid.

On 19 July the government advice, “to work from home wherever possible” ceased. There is an expectation that over the summer months there will be a gradual phased return back to “normal” working. What is normal however, remains to be seen.

Within some organisations this has left teams fragmented and displaced from the normal place of work. There is no single recipe that will satisfy every workplace.

For some businesses, returning the majority of workers back to the normal place of work is a priority. If a manufacturer has the means of production in one place, there is a need for people to return there. Other employers, such as those providing professional services, have experienced new ways of working. These new ways potentially offer employees a hybrid form of working. A way of working that some may have a desire to continue.

We do not offer a single solution to employers on the best way of working, however, we strongly suggest that employers have a clear working strategy that meets the needs of their business.

Clear expectations for employee and employer are key.

If employees need to return to the office, performing their duties “at the main place of work” as set out in their terms and conditions of employment, then this expectation should be made clear. The temporary arrangements since lockdown March 2020, may be

a) brought to an end,

b) continued for a further review, or

c) a new varied arrangement should be confirmed in writing.

We advocate talking to your staff now.

Calls over recent weeks into our offices from a variety of clients have highlighted the problems that can be caused by failing to establish clear expectations.

Some employees have assumed that their working from home arrangements will continue indefinitely. There have been some genuine employee issues where care responsibilities have changed during the last 18 months. Some of this is completely unrelated to the Covid-19 pandemic and would have happened anyway. Where an employee has care responsibilities for elderly parents or care for children there are well established processes for making a “flexible working request”. It is likely there will be circumstances where flexibility will need to be requested, considered and either rejected or accepted. The last months have potentially masked these issues and the relevant discussions have not taken place.

In a set of different scenarios, employees have decided to make lifestyle changes. These changes may have been influenced by having the flexibility of working from home. The 2 most common issues arising are firstly, the employee has moved house, and secondly, the employee has taken responsibility for a pet. We are aware of circumstances where employees have “declared” that they are now working a new pattern of work, or from a different place and they are unwilling or reluctant to now resume activities from the workplace. One employee cited that they are only able to attend their normal London based office on occasion with advance notice due to them now being domicile in Scotland!

We would suggest a simple practical step of organising a discussion with all staff around what working arrangements are being contemplated or now necessary for the resumption of future activity. (There is an outline framework for the types of topics for discussion).

These may include:

  • Acknowledging what adjustments have been in place since lockdown, including full or part-time furlough
  • Does the employee have any caring commitment that have arisen or changed during the recent period?
  • Does the employee having the underlying health conditions that need to be accommodated or considered? (Including any fears or concerns about returning to the workplace)
  • How will the employee travel to work? Are there any special considerations here?
  • Will the employee need any further training on new or updated company process?
  • Is the employee familiar with new health and safety procedures or other measures in place?
  • Is the employer aware of who to contact if they have any symptoms or contact triggers in relation to Covid exposure?
  • What arrangements are in place for accrued holiday?
  • Does the employee have any fears, concerns, or additional need for support at this time or in the future?

We recommend employers to be proactive in communicating their future intentions and also identifying specific issues for employees that may impact on operational efficiency, employee performance and good productive working relationships.

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