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Preparing your workplace for the new normal

Employers are now being faced with various unprecedented challenges. One of those being preparing the workplace for the new normal, especially in situations where staff have been out of the workplace for so long. This article will cover the different aspects of preparing your business for the new normal.

What should employers be doing to return to a safe workplace?

Different industries will have different needs; there is not a one size fits all approach. Risk assess and make decision based upon your workplace according to your individual requirements.

Communication and engagement with the workforce is vital, both verbally and in writing. In fact talking to your staff and keeping them informed is one of the most important things you should do. Ensure staff are aware of what you are doing, any changes and why things are being done.

Do not forget to communicate and include those staff who are working from home or remotely – ensure you communicate equally as well with them.

Allow staff to have a voice; to raise any concerns and queries.

If you are proposing any significant contractual changes, for example to their hours, location of work or pay, you are legally required to consult with staff.

Consider individual risk assessments for those with specific needs, such as disabilities.

Particularly, ensure you support those with anxieties or suffering from mental health.

Vaccinations

Currently vaccinations are not mandatory in the UK; although employers can strongly encourage them.

Vaccinations are only one part of safety measures available. Ensure all other safety measures are in place.

Consider those who cannot be vaccinated, such as those with a disability, pregnant or can/will not for religious reasons.

Be mindful that staff may be at a different place in their vaccination journey. Some staff may be fully vaccinated and feel more protected, some may have only had their 1st vaccine, whereas others may not be vaccinated at all yet. Employees may be concerned about working alongside someone ‘less vaccinated’ than they are, or not vaccinated at all.

Consider whether you wish to give staff time off to get vaccinated and whether this time is paid or unpaid.

If staff are off work with side effects from the vaccine, consider whether you will treat this as sickness absence, or record it separately.

Employees who have a genuine fear of returning to the workplace. 

Employers should welcome everyone back to the workplace – this will include existing employees and new employees who have been recruited during the pandemic and may not have seen the actual workplace yet. This will provide those with some concern about returning, some reassurance.

Explain the steps you have taken to ensure the workplace is COVID-secure, including the risk assessments. This could be carried out face to face, via video, interactive video or via a guide.

Allow employees to put across any concerns they have, employers should take these seriously and respond appropriately.

Consider shift working or splitting teams to avoid too much contact,

Consider hybrid working if this arrangement suits your business. This is where staff share home/remote working and onsite working.

Put additional measures in place, such as extra deep cleans, provision of cleaning wipes or hand sanitisers, regular cleaning of shared equipment. Let staff know what you are doing.

Give staff who wish to discuss any personal issues they may have the opportunity to do so.

Staff are naturally concerned about travelling on public transport currently. Consider how you can support staff. Could you extend car parking at work? Could you change working times so staff are travelling at less busy times? Could you have a safe place for bicycles so staff could cycle rather than use public transport?

Remote or Hybrid Working

If you wish to introduce hybrid, home or remote working ensure it will suit your business. It may not suit all your business and only parts of it.

If you introduce home/remote/hybrid working, ensure you have a clear policy or guidelines.

If you are changing the employment contract, for example the location of work, you must consult with staff.

Ensure staff have the necessary equipment for working at home. This doesn’t have to be a double of everything they have in the office.

If hybrid working, ensure staff plan their work so they know what equipment and other support they may need. If they need a particular piece of equipment, such as the photocopier, ensure that is an ‘office day’. This avoids employers having to double up on equipment.

Ensure you carry out risk assessments (DSE). This can be done via video for staff not in the office.

You can also support staff by providing guides (written or video) on how to sit, how to position their equipment, moving around to avoid musculo-skeletal problems.

Ensure staff who are working from home or another remote location keep their calendar up to date so the employer and colleagues know their whereabouts.

Testing

Employers who registered by the deadline can continue to order free test kits until 30th June 2021.

Workplace testing is recommended, including temperature checking and lateral flow testing.

Consider whether you wish to introduce mandatory testing. If you are going to amend terms and conditions of employment to make testing a requirement of their contract, as with any other change to contractual terms, you must consult with staff.

Consider who will carry out the testing: a trained professional, someone else or self-testing.

Who will you test? Staff, contractors and visitors?

How often will you test? Government advice is that lateral flow tests should be carried out twice a week.

If staff refuse to be tested, find out their reasons for refusing, consider whether their reason is reasonable and the impact it will have.

Consider issues such as registering with Public Health England and data privacy issues. Are you going to record and store test results? How and where? Remember this must be treated as ‘sensitive data’.

Business Resilience

Finally, what have you learnt from the pandemic? This is a great time to look back and think about some learning.

How have you survived? If something similar happened again, are you business ready?

Has the pandemic uncovered weaknesses in your business or areas that could be improved or strengthened? Hill HR have been reviewing and drafting a lot of essential HR documentation, such as employment contracts and handbooks, to ensure they are still fit for business purpose and protect the business.

Do you have the right business model? The pandemic may have changed your business.

Do you have the right people in the right jobs with the right skills?