With a recent survey revealing that 40% of employees do not feel it is safe to go back to work, the government has switched from a back to work message to a work from home where possible message once again.
Despite the government now urging employees to work from home as Covid-19 remains a risk within all of our daily lives, many firms across the UK have in fact reopened their offices for employees who struggle to work from home. Although some employees are eager to return to the office, for some employees who have worked from home over the past few months, returning to the office remains a daunting prospect.
According to the Home Working in the UK survey, 88% of employees who were working from home during the pandemic wish to continue doing so. Many employees are keen to achieve a better work-life balance, to protect their mental health and remain safe as the risk of coronavirus continues. With this in mind, the employment lawyers at Richard Nelson LLP have put together advice for employers on supporting their employees during this time, whether they remain working from home or return to the office.
Work out if your office can host employees
During the current climate, employers must put the safety of their employees first. Businesses have a legal obligation to ensure the workplace their employees are entering matches with the health and safety standards which have been set out by the government. Therefore, employers must ensure their workplace is safe before they engage with conversations of inviting employees to return to the office, including putting the correct cleaning equipment and social distancing measures into place.
Employers may struggle if a large number of their employees wish to return to the office. The government has requested that employees work from home where possible, meaning employers cannot hold the same level of capacity as they did before the pandemic, especially once social distancing measures are in place. Businesses may need to introduce a rota or a timetable for when certain employees are able to attend the office, perhaps prioritising the needs of those who may wish to return. For example, employees who struggle to concentrate at home or do not have the adequate space to work in their house may be given access to the office first.
Ask your employees what they need
It is crucial for businesses to listen to the individual needs of employees during this time, to understand how they are coping with working from home and what they require from the business to be more comfortable in their role. When drawing up a remote working/returning to the office strategy, business leaders should be guided by the needs of their employees since some employees will be eager to get back to the office whereas others may be extremely nervous about returning.
To understand how many employees wish to return to the office and how many days a week they wish to do so, employers should consider sending out a survey to their team. This is a fantastic place to start as it provides valuable feedback to businesses which they can use to create their strategy moving forward. It is also wise for employers to use this opportunity to find out what they can do to improve the home working environment for their employees, such as better equipment, more collaborative working or additional virtual socials. Employers have a duty of care to their employees, even while they are working from home, making it important to ensure they are set up with appropriate chairs, desks and screens for working.
Find a balance which fits your workforce
Each firm will require a unique approach to tackling their remote working policy, with the ultimate aim being that the benefits are optimised for employees and the risks are limited. Employees should be set up to work successfully from home but also given the flexibility to return to the office where possible/permitted if this is what some team members require. Businesses should also ensure that their return to work policy is in line with the government recommendations, paying close attention to any local lockdowns which may impact their particular office.
Instead of dictating to employees when they can work from home or be in the office, business leaders should find a way to offer a safe work environment for their team whether that is in their home or in the office building. As we navigate the upcoming months, communicating clearly with employees will be a priority for businesses as they focus on prioritising the safety and wellbeing of their workforce during the pandemic.