With a little under two months to go until the country fully re-opens under the Government’s roadmap plan, business leaders and employees alike are beginning to put plans in place for the return to some sort of normality.
While many of us can’t wait to escape the isolation of lockdown we have had to endure over the past 13 months, this doesn’t mean there aren’t anxieties about returning to the workplace and other areas of high footfall. Last year, more than two-fifths of UK workers were anxious about returning to normal working routines, with the many citing health risks as a major concern as well as having to battle the commute once again.
Since this research was undertaken, effective vaccinations have been introduced and our understanding of how to protect ourselves and our families from the threat of COVID-19 has improved greatly. And while return to work anxiety seems to have lessened, helped by the fact that many workers feel little to no pressure to return to the workplace by their employers, 20 per cent of UK workers still report concerns.
As an employer, how can you help support your team back into the workplace this summer? Here are five key tips to consider.
1. Offer flexible working options
After more than year of working from home where the stress of the commute has been removed, health risks posed by COVID-19 are greatly reduced, more time is available to spend with friends or family, and those with caring responsibilities have better freedom to make work fit around them – it’s comes as no surprise that many employees are reluctant to return to the office full-time.
According to recent studies, nearly 80 per cent of UK workers would like to see their employers implement a flexible working model, with visits to the office being kept to two days or less per week. 31 per cent reported they’d be happy never to return to the office.
By offering flexible working patterns, not only may you see a long-term improvement in staff welfare but by listening to employees’ needs, staff retention will remain high – a great boost for your business’ reputation.
2. Check in with staff regularly
Of course, your team’s needs and wants may change over time, especially as we all become accustomed to a world post-COVID, so it’s crucial you continue to check-in with how they are feeling about current working models on a regular basis.
One way to do this would be to conduct a full employee survey quarterly to gather overall sentiment and make tweaks and changes if necessary. While not always possible to cater to everyone’s needs on a case-by-case basis, ensure you also take the time to sit down with employees on a one-to-one basis to consider any personal concerns or ideas they may have.
3. Explain your rationale for the return
Within some industries, employees will struggle to see the need to return to the office, especially if work is easily completed at home or remotely. As an employer, you may hold a different view but it’s crucial you communicate this effectively with staff. Whether it’s having a dedicated space to meet with clients, more effective internal communication or decreasing the risk of mental ill-health because of prolonged isolation, the positive aspects of working from the office need to be clearly laid out. Encouragement to return to the office should be softly approached with all anxieties and questions answered and managed with care.
4. Forward planning is key
The source of many people’s anxieties about the return to work is the unknown. There’s no telling exactly what will happen when the country re-opens again, nor is there any guarantee that COVID-19 cases won’t spike once again.
While, as a leader, you don’t have a crystal ball with all the answers, you do have the power to lay out a clear and concise plan to showcase to your team which outlines all plans and policies for the short-, medium- and long-term. By having your own business roadmap, not only will this help put employees at east, but you can be transparent and open about your expectations.
5. Approach the future with kindness
At the end of that day, we have all been battling an invisible enemy for over a year, and the barriers we have had to put in place to protect ourselves, our teams and our families have been nothing but robust. The thought of having to break down these barriers and open ourselves back up to potential threat will, of course, be distressing – no matter how much we’ve missed and craved human contact.
As an employer, you have a duty of care to your employees, for both their physical and mental health. As we look to take the next steps towards normality, the most important thing is to ensure you are leading and supporting your team with kindness, patience and empathy.
The next few weeks will be a mix of emotions for so many of us, but it’s important that, as employers, you not only recognise this but normalise it. After such a turbulent year, it’s unsurprising that most of the population are usure of how to feel about the return to normal. Providing an ear, leading with understanding and showcasing care and consideration for each and every employee will undoubtedly lead to a much happier, more settled workforce.