Shifting your employees to home working at the start of the pandemic may have been difficult, given the speed at which it had to happen and the less developed understanding we had of COVID-19 at the time, but going back to the workplace is even more complicated. It requires employers to balance a number of factors, which are outlined here.
You need to keep your employees safe
As an employer, you have a legal obligation to prioritise the health and safety of your employees. This is also important purely from a business perspective, especially if you’ve supported them during the furlough period, investing in the long term retention of talent. Healthy adults of working age have a low risk of dying from the currently active strains of the virus, but there is also a risk of them suffering long-term disability due to long COVID, developing chronic lung problems, or developing a mental illness or neurological problem – something found to affect one in three infected people.
You need to be ready to run a minimal-risk workplace
Before you bring employees back into the workplace, you will need to do an assessment to work out how you can best implement social distancing and additional hygiene measures across your premises. Current government guidelines are that every on-site worker should receive at least two lateral flow tests per week to reduce the chance of infection spreading between employees, and anyone who has been in contact with an infected person should self-isolate, which means it’s a good idea to keep home working as an option. These measures apply even to fully vaccinated individuals.
You need to consider the impact of lockdown
On the flip side of this, spending a long time in lockdown has had a negative effect on many people’s mental health, and getting your employees back to normal – as much as possible – can itself be important to their well-being. It will be all the more important to use drug and alcohol workplace testing because addiction rates have risen during this time. You may need additional training options to brush up on neglected skills, and a more relaxed approach to short breaks in order to help returning workers readjust.
One size may not fit all
If you have employees who are at high risk from the virus, or who live with people at high risk, equalities law may require you to let them keep on working from home. There are advantages to this which go beyond their well-being, as their absence can make it easier to accommodate workplace social distancing. Bear in mind that a lot of people have lost loved ones to the pandemic and some of those people may not feel able to return to the workplace yet but may be happy to work from home.
It’s probable that we never will quite go back to normal after all this, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Smart employers will take the opportunity to make positive changes to how they go about their work.