It is imperative to return the workplace safely, and there are three key factors to consider.


The return to the workplace following the Covid-19 lockdown won’t be an easy operation to manage, and the overarching goal needs to be safety – it is a pre-condition for future profit and growth. There are three areas to be aware of within the safety bracket.


Workplace readiness


The first area to tackle is workplace readiness, and the need to be intentional in your planning regarding who returns and when. Around two thirds of organisations are putting a staggered return in place, with, for example, colleagues without a suitable environment to work from home in going back to the office first. Others are doing it alphabetically, with A to M surnames heading in half the week, followed by N to Z later in the week. Or smaller groups can be brought back together, based on their need to collaborate.


It’s also important to note the need for physical distancing – not just at the desk, but in the lobby, canteen and lifts.


Workforce support


The second part of returning safely is ensure adequate workforce support is in place. People have a lot of support needs at the moment, whether that’s emotional support or practical support to ensure they are able to care for family members. Some are furloughed and feel cut off, while others are working hard and at risk of burnout. In response, businesses are rethinking the benefits they need to be offering to balance this. We’ve seen offers of paid or unpaid leave, or benefits such as telemedicine services, to help counteract some of the issues people are facing. This empathetic approach will need to both continue and evolve as the situation changes.


Enterprise resilience  


The third part of a safe return is enterprise resilience. The overarching responsibility for this lies with the leadership team, but HR plays a key role in determining how to mitigate and minimise risks to the business. HR needs to ensure scrutiny around the monitoring of safety, and ensure safety criteria are being communicated in a transparent way to employees.


Resilience and productivity often go hand in hand, and it can be valuable to assess the impact on productivity of working from home on a job by job basis. When determining how to get employees back to 100% productivity, it’s important to engage them and ensure they are part of the dialogue.


We have a framework for a safe return to work at Mercer.com, and flexibility is a critical component. We’ve opined for flexible working for many years because of its benefits in improving diversity and inclusion and supporting parents. Now, more companies can see a strong business case and 87% say it is a focus for them in 2020.


Many organisations are asking if they can save money on real estate costs by increasing flexible working; our view is that for most, there will need to be a combination of remote and on-site working. We need to re-think what the office is for.  First and foremost it is a place for collaboration and not merely a place to do email.  Unpacking why we need to be in the office implies more flexibility, and is likely to require culture change.  Although businesses should not miss this opportunity to build long term change, making it work for the longer term will require careful planning and significant effort.


For more information or advice about any of the issues raised please contact Jen Saunders or Christopher Johnson. 


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