As we look forward to easing COVID-19 restrictions over the weeks and months to come, many employers are hoping to welcome their teams back to the office sooner rather than later – and many employees are hoping to embrace ‘normality’ as soon as possible, too.
But there’s lots to think about as we approach our return to the office, especially as the pandemic has affected us all in different ways.
Here, entrepreneurial investor Jack Mason suggests four ways that employees can make their transition back into the office easier, as well as five ways that employers can support their teams as they return to work. Jack leads multiple teams in his role as group CEO of Inc & Co, an award-winning digital collective in Manchester. He adopts a people-focused approach to ensure every team member receives the support and personal arrangements they need to work as comfortably as possible.
How Employees Can Make the Return To Work Easier
While it’s up to employers to make the office a safe environment to return to (we’ll look at how they can achieve this later), there are steps employees can take to ease the transition, too. Jack’s top four tips for employees will help you to prioritise your mental health as you return to the office.
1) Stay in Touch
Communication is key when it comes to your return to the workplace, and a few texts or a phone call with your colleagues can make this easier. You don’t need to talk about work per se; just a catch up can start to rekindle that sense of office normality. If coronavirus has affected you in a way that will make your return to work difficult, it can be helpful to share your situation during this conversation. Perhaps you’ve been unwell, isolated, or bereaved. If so, letting your colleagues (and line manager) know will allow them to make adjustments that will make your life easier when returning to the office.
2) Book a Return-To-Work Chat with Your Manager
Just as it’s important to check in with your colleagues, it’s also important to communicate with your line manager. When you return to the office, you may have priorities or concerns that you need to address. Arranging a time to speak with your line manager before your return can be a good idea, especially if your concerns relate to difficulties working in-house. If you’re worried about bringing up your concerns, it can be helpful to practise the conversation with a friend or family member so you can work out how best to convey your thoughts.
3) Ask for the Info You Need
After months of working remotely, you may need your line manager to make some changes so you can do your job efficiently in-house. It’s okay to ask your line manager about new provisions that will keep everyone safe in the office. For example, it can be reassuring to seek answers to the following questions before you return.
How should I travel to work?
Should I expect any differences when I enter the building?
Who will be there when I return?
Will I need to amend the way I do my job?
4) Consistently Monitor Your Wellbeing
Keep in mind that your return to the workplace is unlikely to work out as the finalised, solid version of how your new office life will be. The virus is unpredictable, and we can only expect our working lives to evolve in line with our changing needs. You may be worried that this unpredictability will take a toll on your mental health. However, if you focus on taking things one step at a time, you can monitor how well you’re coping on an ongoing basis and amend your self-care and mental health support accordingly. You can also arrange regular check-ins with your line manager to work your way through COVID-19 together.
If you’re concerned about your mental health, you might also find Jack’s blog post on avoiding burnout helpful.
How Employers Can Make the Return To Work Easier
Though employees have their part to play in their return to the workplace, employers also have duties that they should fulfil to welcome their teams back safely. As we phase our return to work into practice, you should aim to support your employees by upholding communication, transparency, and empathy. You might even provisionally arrange events or socials to improve morale and get your team excited about their return.
Here are Jack’s five tips for kickstarting your team’s return to work.
1) Complete a COVID-19 Risk Assessment
Before you welcome your team back to the office, it’s important to complete a risk assessment that examines how your company will control and eliminate potential COVID-19 hazards. You’ll need to consider work activities that could increase the risk of virus transmission, individuals who could be at high risk, how likely it is that your staff could become exposed to the virus, and how you can eliminate or control risks.
Keep in mind that you should share your risk assessment and its results with all employees. If you have more than 50 employees, you should publish the assessment results on your website. Aside from this, the size of your company has no bearing on your risk assessment, which should be well documented regardless.
There are resources on offer to help you conduct your COVID-19 risk assessment. For example, the Health and Safety Executive has put guidelines in place to help employers conduct their assessments. Plus, employers can use the government’s online tool to help. If in doubt, it can also be helpful to work with a health and safety specialist to help you with your risk assessment.
2) Prepare or Update a Health and Safety at Work Policy
Aside from your risk assessment, you’ll also need to prepare a Health and Safety at Work Policy to protect your staff. You might already have one of these that you can update to include new COVID-19 protection measures. These measures may include guidance on cleaning, wearing masks, social distancing, self-isolation, when not to come to work, and what to do if staff have been in contact with someone who has COVID-19.
Your Health and Safety at Work Policy should help to keep your office COVID-secure and ensure your compliance with health and safety obligations. The policy should also reassure your employees that you are taking measures to protect them. Once your policy is in place, it’s a good idea to provide training on new rules and let your team know of any disciplinary sanctions for non-compliance.
3) Check in with Employees
Jack advises organising an informal chat with each employee to discuss their return to the office. Alternatively, you could appoint a member of your HR or management team to act as the point of contact for these discussions. Checking in will give staff a chance to voice any concerns so that you can accommodate their requirements for safe working. When you keep your channel of communication open, your team is more likely to share their concerns, and you’re more likely to find solutions. This way, your employees should feel comfortable returning to the workplace.
When discussing the return to the office with your workforce, these are some of the concerns you might expect your team to raise – and the solutions you can offer to help your team through their challenges.
While we hope to return to the office soon, the government might not roll back all public transport restrictions when they allow us to re-open our workplaces. But some employees rely on public transport for their commutes, especially in London and other major cities. If employees can’t access this transportation, they may not be able to make it into the office.
In this case, you could consider other modes of transport. For example, you might offer a cycle-to-work scheme and expand your bicycle storage. Or, if the office has limited parking spaces, you could seek additional parking spaces for your workforce. If employees can’t cycle or drive to work, you should consider allowing them to continue working remotely. Alternatively, you could adjust their working hours so they can commute using reduced public transport links.
Just as the government may not ease travel restrictions at the same time as workplace restrictions, we might not see childcare responsibilities revert to ‘normal’ at the same time, either. Your employees could find themselves in a position where you need them back in the office, but they haven’t yet arranged childcare cover. In this situation, you could offer parental leave or flexible hours until employees have sought childcare. Make sure you document any changes in working patterns to protect both you and your employees.
Though it’s important to protect employees who haven’t yet had the chance to arrange childcare cover, it’s possible an employee may end up exhausting their statutory and contractual entitlements to leave. If they remain unable to come into the office due to childcare disruption for an extended time, you may have grounds to dismiss the employee for capability reasons. However, you should consider this a last resort and explore all alternatives first.
When the government allows us to reopen our offices, we won’t automatically all be able to return to work. Vulnerable employees – those who are pregnant, elderly, or have health conditions – may well need to continue working remotely. In this case, you should make reasonable adjustments for these employees.
On the flip side, if vulnerable employees wish to come into the office or can’t work effectively remotely, you should work with them to decide how they can do this safely.
Welcoming Your Team Back To the Office
Though we can prepare for welcoming our teams back to the office soon, we must continue working from home for at least a little longer yet. While we’re all working remotely, it’s important to check in with your employees to uphold communication and let them know that you care about their wellbeing. Most importantly, keep in mind that all employees have different situations, needs, and concerns. They may not all be able to return to work at once, and you may need to accommodate their requirements differently.
You can catch up on more of Jack’s people-management tips on his blog.
About Jack Mason
As the group CEO of Inc & Co’s business collective, Jack Mason helps business teams to embrace the most innovative of digital solutions and leads them towards their own definitions of success. Jack strategically builds teams based on complementary skill sets and personalities, nurturing every business under the Inc & Co umbrella. He helps these teams to collaborate in Inc & Co’s creative sphere to achieve unrivalled business growth.
Jack’s entrepreneurialism and experience as an investor are pivotal to his role as a digital disruptor in the modern business scape. Just a few of the companies that Jack has integrated into Inc & Co’s collective include forward-thinking digital agencies such as Cuhu, Skylab, Neon, and Brass, as well as high-profile software companies, such as MyLife Digital, Insight Analysis, Wood for Trees, and Laundrapp.
Learn more about Inc & Co .
Jack Mason is Kickstarting Post-Lockdown Back-To-Work Efforts