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With the majority of Covid-19 restrictions finally being lifted, many employers are now faced with how and when to transition their teams from their remote workstations back into the office. The challenge that some businesses face is that after more than a year of working from home, not everyone is relishing the idea of returning to business as normal. In fact, anxiety levels remain high as the UK population continues to adjust to the ‘new normal’. A recent LinkedIn study revealed that over 30% of UK workers feel apprehensive about heading back into the office.

Devising a roadmap to reopening success requires a sensitive and balanced approach which doesn’t place additional pressure on those who are already feeling uneasy about the transition.

Assess your individual risks as a business

When you request your teams return to their usual place of work, they’ll naturally want to be reassured that you’ve done everything in your power to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission and infection. There are many practical ways that you can signpost your health and safety commitment in this area;

  • Position hand sanitiser stations around the workplace, including at main entrances and exits.
  • Find a government approved provider to run a workplace testing scheme and share details of your regular Covid testing procedures with internal memos and posters.
  • Create space between workstations and supply each desk with antibacterial wipes or surface cleaners.
  • Share details of your COVID-19 risk assessment with your team, highlighting new measures taken to lessen transmission.
  • Consider one way systems, limits on the number of persons in lifts or stairwells and separate entrances and exits.
  • Explore staggered start and leave times to give more flexibility and allow teams to avoid travelling in to the office during peak periods.
  • Conduct back to work inductions to welcome remote workers back to the office in a structured, guided manner.

Communication is key

You can do everything in your power to make your office as Covid secure safe as possible, but unless you regularly communicate these measures to your staff, they are unlikely to take much comfort from your efforts or know what to expect on their return.

Documenting a clear process which lays out what to expect when they arrive to work can help limit anxiety. Sharing this before the agreed date of return sets out a clear map of what’s going to happen, so everyone can prepare themselves mentally in advance and make sure that they’ve already done everything that you’ve requested in terms of Covid testing and vaccinations before reporting back to their desk.

Consider hybrid working

With many UK workers becoming used to the concept of remote working, around half of workers say they would ideally prefer a hybrid working model, with a mix of remote working and days spent in the office.

Many businesses have already seen the benefits of hybrid working in terms of reduced office operational costs and increased worker happiness, so it’s definitely something worth considering as part of your return to the office roadmap.

Devise bespoke back to work plans

For high-risk individuals with suppressed immune systems or those with vulnerable family members, the prospect of coming back to work can be even more worrisome with a real danger of increased stress and anxiety.

Where possible, work collaboratively with your team to come to an arrangement that is agreeable to both parties. There is no one-size-fits all approach to dealing with anxiety so be prepared for each person’s expectations and requests to differ from those of their colleagues.

 Ongoing mental health support

Despite a large proportion of workers returning to the office either now or in the near future, few workers are given access to complimentary mental health support to make the transition back into the workplace as stress-free as possible.

Of the businesses that have put in place mental health support, the most valuable tools for employees include access to a counsellor or trained manager to listen to their concerns, a specialist return to work program to help staff prepare for coming back into the office and fazed returns for those struggling with anxiety.

Employers are advised to be flexible and not put a time limit on the availability of this additional support. Instead, reassess the situation quarterly as changes are sure to occur over the coming months that mean that your staff will still require your help and understanding.

Vaccinations

Despite the quick pace of the vaccine rollout in the UK, there may well be some employees who haven’t yet taken up the offer of a vaccine for personal, ethical or medical reasons.

As an employer, the law currently states that you cannot force an employee to have a vaccination nor discipline them for failing to do so, but you can ensure that they have access to the correct information on vaccines and are allowed time off work to attend a vaccination appointment if they wish to do so.

By being supportive regardless of your employee’s stance on vaccinations, you keep a channel of communication open. Stay neutral on the subject and be ready to provide fact-checked third party advice where necessary.

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