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Should You Ask Your Staff To Return To Work?

Two people sitting two metres apart and working
Sitting at least two metres apart in the office will become the norm if you can't work from home.

With the government giving the go-ahead for more people to return to work, employers all over the UK should be deciding on the plan to get their employees who need to come back, integrated safely and healthily, but also how they will manage having lots of their workforce still working from home.

The government have released guidance on the health and safety measures that employers should be implementing, including specifically for offices and contact centres, but from a human management perspective, there are three main things managers should be considering.

Do my employees really need to be back in the office?

How can I organise staff returning to work?

What if my employees don’t feel safe coming back?


Do my employees really need to be back in the office?

Any employers thinking about bringing staff back need to check if they are considered ‘essential’ by the government’s standards. Just because staff are essential to your business, doesn’t mean they are classed as ‘essential’. If employees are struggling to work from home and you think bringing them back is the only way to solve the issues, there are a few things you can check first instead:

Have they got the right equipment? Under normal conditions, working from home requires risk assessments, display screen equipment checks and any new technology to be purchased by the company. With many people suddenly having to work from home at short notice, not everyone will have implemented the same care and attention to set up their working spaces. You can help by making sure they have a decent internet bandwidth and an ergonomic workstation, as well as access to IT support.

If they are struggling to complete certain tasks or parts of their job because they don’t have access to hard copies of files or equipment then decide if those tasks are worth the risks associated with going back to work, or if it would be better to put those tasks on hold and look at reducing the employees hours to part-time, giving them new tasks or furloughing them.

If you’ve got staff that are just not happy working from home, it could be for a variety of reasons including mental or physical health. Anyone who has been furloughed may find themselves bored or even anxious they are losing the skills to do their job. In this case you can take steps to encourage them to volunteer, take online courses, exercise and join in with online work socials so they are staying in touch and keeping active. Offering to help employees make use of online counselling services or providing resources from mental health experts is another way to help them, but means they do not have to return to the workplace yet.

How can I organise staff returning to work?

There are a few options you have here; you could stagger shifts so that some of your staff are coming in for one week and then the other staff are coming in the next week. This would keep them apart and it would mean that everyone gets a week at, and a week away from the premises.

You could ask the staff which of them would prefer to come back and then filter it down by whether they are caring for someone, or whether they will need to use public transport to get to work. If they are clinically vulnerable or shielding then they shouldn't actually be coming back to work at all.

Another thing to look at is whether you have the capacity to protect everyone at work. If they need PPE is that something you're able to get hold of or have a good supply of?

For example; if you bring back a few staff, will you want to open your canteen? How many canteen staff are needed to run it properly? Instead of having a canteen run half-staffed or bringing all the staff in, to manage this properly, you are better off asking the staff who are coming back to bring their own packed lunches and not opening the canteen at all.

Whatever you choose though, you must be careful about discrimination, the Equality Act 2010 and associated protected characteristics still apply regardless of the pandemic.

This document explains and shows the ways offices can be made safer, and what protective measures can be implemented for staff who are returning to workplaces. Depending on what industry you are in, there is different guidance applicable and you can find out more here too

Do they feel safe coming back?

If an employee doesn't want to come back into work because they don’t feel safe, there are things you can do to mitigate any worries that they have, first and foremost by following the government guidance on how to protect your employees at work.

If they are still not confident , to put their minds at ease you could start by taking them through the risk assessments and include photos, or give them a video tour, to get the message across that you are taking every step possible before they get into work. Include examples of what has been done and give them training on how to spot an issue and report it. Ensure that your policies and procedures have been updated with any new guidance and rights, and that each of your employees has seen and signed copies of it.

How about you?

Finally, another question to ask yourself is, do you feel okay going back and taking on this responsibility? It’s unlikely you’ve ever managed a workplace through a pandemic before and you need to make sure you feel mentally prepared, and actually capable, of navigating your way through this maze of new experiences you and your staff will go through. Do you really need to go back to work? Who will be managing you? Do you feel safe going back? Only if you can answer those questions positively should you be asking others to go back too.  


About the author

Rebekah Frost

A champion problem solver; whether it’s a board game or a tricky computer conundrum, Bekah's attention to detail is second to none. Her interesting and varied work experience across different sectors means she always has a story to tell, a love of people and a way to fix any issue.