Top tips HR need to follow for a smooth return to the office

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From communicating openly with staff to having an in-person induction for all new starters, here’s what HR teams need to be doing to ease concerns about returning to the workplace

With lockdown restrictions easing around the country, many of us are able to introduce some normality into our lives once again. For employers, fewer restrictions now mean offices can open back up and employees can go back to working from the office. While a return to the office may be welcomed by some, it is also likely to cause concern for others. A recent survey carried out by CIPHR found that 75% of workers said that they are somewhat or very concerned for their welfare with regards to Covid-19 if they are required to return to the workplace in some capacity. 73% of UK workers also said they would accept a reduction in pay in return for being able to work remotely permanently.

However, as employees prepare to return to the workplace, HR and employers need to ensure they are working together to make the office return as smooth as possible for all employees. Here CIPHR shares the top tips HR and employers should be following to ease concerns.

Tip 1: Communicate openly with all staff

There’s been a lot of change since most employees were last in the office. From new processes to health and safety restructuring of the office space, HR and employers need to make all staff aware of the changes and what these mean.

When employees are all in the office, hold a company meeting (or department meetings depending on the size of your organisation) and let your people know what you expect of them on their return. This is also your chance to ask them about any concerns they have about being in the office again and reassuring them.

If you made employees redundant during the pandemic, be open with employees about these job losses. Try to avoid employees hearing from others about those who have been made redundant and give them clear updates on who is no longer working at the company – being transparent will show employees that you aren’t hiding anything from them and can increase the trust between the two.

Tip 2: Take health and safety measures

According to the CIPHR survey, 58% of respondents said they would like hand sanitisers throughout the building, while 48% said they would like to see their workplace cleaned more often. To ensure all health and safety measures are met, you should do a risk assessment before employees return to the office.

You must:

  • identify what work activity or situations might cause transmission of the Covid-19 virus
  • think about who could be at risk
  • decide how likely it is that someone could be exposed
  • act to remove the activity or situation, or if this isn’t possible, control the risk

By doing this risk assessment, and letting employees know that it has been done, you can stop them (to an extent) from worrying about contracting Covid-19 in the workplace.

Set rules about employees having to clear and clean workstations at the end of the day (if they weren’t already doing so before the pandemic) and place hand sanitisers around the workplace.

Tip 3: Continue to offer some form of flexible working

Over the last year, many employees have had to adjust to remote working. Zoom fatigue has led to employees feeling exhausted, but there have also been some benefits that have come with working remotely.

Employees have been able to spend more free time with family, spend less time and money on commuting, and have been able to work how they like. These benefits cannot be replicated in the office so employers should do what they can to ensure they continue to offer some form of flexible working when employees return to the office.

Upon returning to the office, over 60% of HR professionals and business leaders said their organisation would provide additional flexibility such as flexible hours for those returning to the office from home working, while more than a quarter said they would provide flexibility to those returning to the office from furlough.

Giving employees the opportunity to balance their time working in the office and at home can make employees happier, motivated and engaged as a result.

Tip 4: Provide mental health support

The pandemic had a large impact on mental health – the proportion of adults reporting moderate to severe depressive symptoms rose from 10% pre-pandemic, to 19% when lockdown began, and 39% of those suffering from moderate to severe depressive symptoms said their work is being affected. For employees, the return to the office means more change and more stress, which could negatively impact their mental health.

HR should support employees by listening to them and their concerns and provide professional support through Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP).

Let your employees know that support is available if they need it and encourage them to talk and listen to each other.

Tip 5: Reintroduce the social side of work

As some of your employees are likely to feel anxious about returning to the office, you should highlight the social benefits of returning to the office.

Tell managers to organise a team lunch or dinner, let employees spend time catching up with one another in person, and encourage them to enjoy the social interaction they may have been missing out on.

By socialising with each other, employees can find out what each other thinks about returning to the office and can share their thoughts with each other – employees may feel reassured knowing that other employees feel the same way they do about being in the office once again.

Tip 6: Carry out in-person induction for new starters

How many new employees have started working at your organisation since the start of the pandemic? Have they all been working remotely so far?

Even if employees have been working at your organisation for over a year now, don’t forget to re-introduce them in person to other colleagues when they are in the office for the first time.

Give them an office tour, let them know where each department is situated and if you still need to carry out any training or induction sessions, make sure these are carried out as soon as possible upon the return to the office.

Working remotely and seeing colleagues through a screen is not the same as seeing each other in person – encourage the new starters to get to know the office and the work environment.

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