We have gone weeks without seeing friends and family, without school or even being able to go to work. Although the lockdown has been essential for containing the spread of coronavirus, it has caused huge disruption, with businesses going under, people being made redundant, and many losing their incomes.
The future is uncertain and we don’t know exactly how ‘normal’ things will return to once the lockdown is lifted. One thing is for certain, however — it’s unlikely to be business as usual for a while. So as we try and return to normality, and potentially see lockdown restrictions softened, what should employers bear in mind?
“It may seem a long time away, but eventually, the coronavirus pandemic will come to an end and, when it does, employers will need to have plans in place to help staff get back to normal,” says Kate Palmer, associate director of advisory at the employment law and HR consultancy firm Peninsula.
Don’t immediately ditch flexible working
For many companies, putting home-working options into place may have been an entirely new venture that they had not previously considered. “While the initial reaction to the pandemic ending may be to return all staff to previous working arrangements, some companies and their employees may have been satisfied with the home-working situation and could wish to make it permanent,” Palmer says.
READ MORE: Should we all be doing walking meetings?
“Home-working can be a useful way of helping staff to manage outside commitments, such as childcare, the outbreak may have intensified that. For example, if the UK lockdown eases, but the schools remain shut, staff may struggle to facilitate childcare,” she adds.
“By allowing remote working on a more permanent basis, employers can help to encourage the loyalty and retention of staff. If such an option isn’t possible, it may instead be advisable to explore other forms of flexible working, such as part-time home-working or a change in hours.”
Think about how social distancing will work
We don’t know what a relaxation of the lockdown will look like, but social distancing may well continue. Before bringing staff back to work, it is likely employers will need to make changes to the workplace so a certain level of distance can be maintained between staff.
“Allowing remote home-working to continue for some members of staff may offer a solution here as it will mean fewer bodies are coming into work. Again, in the absence of remote working, employers may need to consider other forms of flexible working to keep staff numbers down,” Palmer says.
Don’t forget about staff who were furloughed
Some of the staff returning to work will have been furloughed, meaning they could potentially have been away from their job for a prolonged period. Instead of throwing people into the deep end when they get back to their desks, it’s important to consider if they need any training or updates.
“Constant communication should be kept open with a workforce to keep them updated on the company’s current situation and invite them to bring forward any concerns they may have,” Palmer says.
Don’t expect people to adapt quickly
It’s important to be patient. It’s unlikely people will bounce straight back to their previous work lives after a global pandemic. People have lost family members, friends and incomes, and they have lived through an unprecedented period of stress and anxiety. Some employees may need additional support to help them get back to work.
“The coronavirus situation has been difficult for everyone and may have impacted some members of staff more than others,” Palmer says.
“Employers should, therefore, clearly signpost any counselling services it may offer, such as an Employee Assistance Programme, that could provide further support and aid to employees. Managers should also maintain an open-door policy to encourage anyone struggling with their mental health to ask for help.”