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A​t some point the lockdown will be eased and we will need to do our best to reanimate our economy. In fact, there have already been reports saying government ministers have drawn up a three-phase plan to lift the lockdown.

In thinking about what’s within your span of control, what plans have you got in place to safely and considerately ease your employees back to work? Particularly if you want them to come back to your physical office?

Two things happened this week which had me thinking about the practicalities of easing employees back to work once the lockdown is over.

One, I was invited onto Ian Wright’s (a different Ian) Disruptive Innovators Network webinar in an episode called ‘Don’t forget people in a crisis’ to give my advice about what leaders could do to support their people in a practical sense, during the lockdown.

Second, in edition #033 of HR rewired, the newsletter, I shared a paper published by the Adam Smith Institute. The authors, Eamonn Butler and Matthew Lesch did a great job of building a compelling case for why the government needs to take bolder steps to reanimate our economy.  You can download their paper here.

‘What if?’ scenario planning


Everyone running a company, irrespective of size, is thinking about what their business will look like post the lockdown. You’ll be thinking about how to innovate, how to pivot to discover fresh revenue opportunities, running different financial scenarios to determine how much longer you can keep trading for if the current situation remains, well, current.

And now that you’ve furloughed your employees, how long can you afford to do that for and at what point do you look at redundancies?

This planning is essential but you shouldn’t get so caught up in the what, that you also forget to plan for the how.

If you are confident that you can take your employees off furlough, you also need a practical plan for how you will transition them back to work.

Productivity isn’t a dirty word


Talking about employee productivity almost feels like a dirty word these days. Yes, you should be empathetic, compassionate and flexible in your expectations of what your employees can realistically achieve during this lockdown. But, it doesn’t mean that you can’t be thinking about ways to increase the odds of your employees being as productive as possible post the lockdown. This is another new change they will need to cope with and as a responsible employer, ensuring you have done everything possible to ease that transition, not only for their well-being but also to give your business the best chance of survival, will be of paramount importance.

Your values will be on show


Your employees will expect you to take care of their physical and mental well-being. It’s not just about how the office is set up, it’s also about how you creating a psychological safe environment for them.

They will feel afraid and anxious about returning to work and I know you will want to do everything possible to elevate that.

The plan you put in place will say a lot about you as a leader and you’re company as a brand. The extent to which you go above and beyond to make sure your employees are looked after is a direct indication of your values. It’s not just about financial returns and getting ‘bums on seats’.

Here are some questions that you should think about and work through with your leadership board and HR lead. Your responsibility to your employees is just as important if you are running a team of five as it is running a team of thousands.  It will be the application that’s slightly different.

Questions to ask to form the basis of your ‘covid-19 return to work plan’

  1. How are we going to protect our ‘at risk’ employees who may need different levels of support due to underlying health conditions?
  2. What do we need to do to redesign our office spaces to maintain social distancing protocols and/or to minimise the transmission of the virus?
  3. Will you require employees to be tested before they return to work? Or will it be a ‘all those who are fit and hardy say aye’ approach?
  4. What procedures do you need to put in place from an insurance perspective in case an employee comes back to work, and gets the virus from another colleague, client or visitor to your premises?
  5. Will you stagger the return of employees and if so, how are you going to do this?
  6. Will you stagger start times, lunch breaks, finish times so the risk of having many employees congregating in the same office area is reduced?
  7. What about physical meetings? Will those return as normal, or will you limit attendees so you can observe social distancing?
  8. Will there be guidance on how many people can be in the toilets at any one time? In your corridors? In your break out spaces?
  9. Can employees go and visit clients in their office spaces? Or can clients come to you?
  10. What will you do if employees aren’t comfortable coming in to work? Will you enforce it, or will it be mandatory? What if many of your employees want to continue working from home?
  11. What other support will you provide employees to help them transition back to work? Don’t forget, for some, they will have to navigate the commute into the office, which means psychologically preparing themselves to be sitting or standing very close to strangers.
  12. Will there be any changes in how you measure their performance or set objectives?
  13. What will your response be if some employees can’t come back to work due to childcare or caring responsibilities?
  14. And in building your plan, how much or little will you involve your employees? And how will you communicate the end result?

Examine your answers through an additional lens


To help you get to the answers which you can not only live with but also stands your brand in good stead and is aligned with your personal values, try asking these questions every time you feel you’ve landed on a decision.

• Is this in keeping with our brand values?
• Would we stand by this decision if it was out in the public domain?
• Would we feel comfortable bringing our son, daughters, mothers, fathers, close family and friends into our office? On the proviso that if it’s safe for them, then it is for your employees.
• Can we look at ourselves in the mirror every day and feel pride in who we see reflected back?

What to do next


As with everything at the moment, you have an option to wait for the government to create and publish their phased lifting of the lockdown. You can hope they provide detailed enough guidance which allows you to pretty much drag and drop this into your business.

Or you can proactively work through the different scenarios. Start talking to your board and drafting in your HR lead to help you build a plan.

I’m always an advocate for keeping things simple. This is not about putting in unnecessary policies and procedures. Your priority is the safety of your employees followed by a legitimate need to ensure they are as productive as possible, as quickly as possible.

Be honest with your teams about what you’re doing and why. And that includes letting them know if you don’t have the answers to certain questions.

Despite what anyone else may tell you, this is going to be messy and disjointed affair, so ask for support from people you trust, if you need it.

If you’re looking to kick-start your plan now, check out our complete guide I’ll See You On Monday. Building A Plan To Bring Your Employees Back To Work Safely.

Good luck.

Shereen ‘The HR Comversationalist’

About the author

A friend of mine jokingly referred to me as the HR Conversationalist and I liked it so much I kept it!

As Managing Director of HR rewired, I help businesses achieve more with fewer resources. By understanding the untapped potential within your team, and using behavioural data to align the right talent in the right roles at the right time, this can make a transformational difference in your ability to compete and service your customers and clients well.

Very passionate about social mobility, technology and employability in young people, I am a Trustee for a group of selective and non-selective schools and after dipping my toe in politics in 2019 (I completed the MP Leadership Programme with the House of Commons and Operation Black Vote), I’m now a board member on the Kent & Medway Economic Partnership Board and a community member for the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Artificial Intelligence.

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