Whilst government guidelines state that we should still be working from home if we can, it’s looking increasingly likely that social distancing measures will be in place for longer than expected. With a 2-metre rule and stricter health regulations to follow, managing the return to our workplaces in the coming months could feel daunting.
To navigate these changes and embrace new working models, HR teams will be vital in maintaining a sense of workplace community and ensuring that employee wellbeing and morale doesn’t diminish as a result. Although every workplace will differ, there are several actions to consider to help teams adjust to the ‘new normal’.
On top of our concerns around physical health; re-entering the workplace after an extended period at home has the potential to trigger anxiety, stress, and other mental health issues.
Many individuals will have been socially isolated for months, and may have been dealing with difficult domestic situations such as juggling childcare, caring for unwell family or friends, and navigating financial concerns. Some may be coping with sickness, recovery or even bereavement.
To sufficiently support employees, managers need to help them understand and adjust to changes in their roles, the business, and to society as a whole.
Teams may have been working collaboratively from home, however it might be a difficult adjustment to working in a shared environment again. Allow for a period of readjustment for all teams, but especially those who have been furloughed and may need a kickstart to boost their motivation.
Why not implement a bridging period, where employees can scale back up to full time working while remaining involved in online team activities such as wellbeing webinars to reinforce the team spirit and maintain a culture of inclusion, wherever they choose to work from.
2. One-to-one and group communication
Re-orientation back into the workplace could involve dedicated one-to-one sessions with employees to discuss their wellbeing in confidential, open and non-judgemental conversations; they may have concerns about returning to work that they’re not comfortable sharing in a group meeting. One-to-ones also provide a safe place to chat about any changes to their role and specific ongoing support they may need if their domestic situation has changed during the pandemic.
Ask questions like:
- How has life been?
- Are you OK about coming back?
- Do you feel safe coming back?
- How can we make your job better?
- Do you know who to talk to if any problems crop up?
Along with individual sessions, teams should be briefed before returning to the workplace on any health and safety changes, changes to business plans and internal operations. Speak openly with employees as early as possible to avoid confusion and to give everyone time to prepare for returning to work. Be that supportive first port of call for employees for advice, organising travel or working arrangements, new equipment they may need, and general mental preparation.
Re-introducing entire workforces back to the business may become labour intensive for HR teams, especially with the additional requirements whilst recovering from lockdown conditions. Why not outsource the on-boarding process to employee wellbeing specialists, such as HappyMaven to provide confidential, unbiased HR support to confidently introduce employees back to the workplace.
3. Adjusting working patterns
Each employee will have unique requirements in order to re-enter the workplace safely and confidently. To promote fairness and ensure employees are happy and therefore motivated, each employee must feel heard. Wherever possible, managers should attempt to accommodate for individual requirements, whether that be providing further facilities to work from home for those in high risk households, offering extra parking and organising car pooling for those who usually rely on public transport, or allowing for flexible hours to avoid peak time travel or allow for school pick ups.
To comply with social distancing measures, many workplaces will adopt long term hybrid working strategies, with teams made up of both in-office and remote workers. In new hybrid teams, employees can remain connected with regular cross-team activities and meetings. HappyMaven provides comprehensive workshop programmes, tailored to boost employees physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. By engaging in open and regular team activities, internal communication will improve along with the team’s sense of shared culture and motivation.
In hybrid teams, invest time in speaking to all employees about life outside work, allowing for the familiar small talk that usually happens across desks and in the office. Sending out small tokens of thanks or appreciation on employees’ return to work can boost that community culture and feeling of value.
4. Promoting an open workplace culture
The pandemic has had an unequal impact on the workforce, affecting people depending on their job role and personal circumstances. The public anxiety surrounding COVID-19, and the fact that some have found their workloads increased while their coworkers were furloughed on 80% of 100% pay, may increase negative feelings amongst teams. With this in mind, HR needs to be sensitive to any potential tensions that could arise, and should be confident about addressing this early to avoid further conflict and resentment.
It’s so important that the corporate culture of a business is inclusive and that every employee is returning to a supportive and caring environment. Double down on company culture activities and communication, promoting an open environment for discussing any potential issues. Encourage employees to build up personal relationships with each other again, and provide additional exercises such as HappyMaven wellbeing webinars, where all employees have equal opportunity to participate.
5. Additional support
Make sure that those returning to work are aware of the mental health support that is available to them, including existing internal resources and external support networks such as Mind and CIPD.
We understand that many HR teams may not have the capacity to undertake this during these extenuating circumstances, or you may be running a small business without an extended team to support you. This is where HappyMaven comes in. HappyMaven are an extension to your team, supporting the businesses existing HR function to provide insights and advice on best practice, making a positive impact on your employees' lives.
To book a 30-minute wellbeing webinar and find out more about adapting to today’s changing workplace, click here.