The government have provided advice and guidance to ‘public facing’ businesses to support them with opening their doors securely and with social distancing measures in place. As businesses adjust to the new ways of operating here I reflect on 5 key tips I would share with business leaders who are opening their businesses.

1 – Have compassion for those who aren’t able or who don’t want to be back at work

Whilst the government may say that it is now safe to open businesses and travel on public transport a very real threat does still exist. Whilst you may not know all of your employees health conditions it is important to take into account the fact that some people will still be unable to return to work as they are still shielding. Where working from home is not an option for these individuals a more flexible approach may need to be taken – before considering simply suggesting these employees are ‘sick’. Furlough is still an option for businesses who have most staff returning to work. Businesses who force employees to return to work ‘or else’ will likely see a high  number of resignations or sick recording in the coming days.

Childcare is also a key consideration as many people are unable to send children to school. Speak to staff to understand how the working day/week could be rearranged, do this with teams of people and try and allocate workloads and shifts based on availability. Yes you must run the business and cover the ‘shop floor’ but consider how the cover can be delivered creatively. Your people will probably know each others circumstances well – let them ‘get on with it’ and create their own solutions.

Remember – some people may not have seen their families but are being asked to go to work.


2 – Be prepared for Furlough ‘Survivor Syndrome’

Survivor syndrome should be considered by organisations on the other side of Furlough. The feeling for employees who have kept their jobs and returned to work will likely be relief but that can subside, giving way to anxiety over the future, illness if they have found the whole process stressful and anger if they have seen colleagues and friends lose their jobs. Not knowing what will happen in the future can have a severe negative effect on employees at work. Communicate what is happening clearly, concisely and on time to ensure everyone has the up to date information. Honesty truly is the best policy – if the companies future is uncertain employees will prefer being told this than being kept in the dark.

Remember – people coming back from Furlough may not be thrilled at the fact they ever were on Furlough.


3 – Have communications ready for employees to use with customers

Customers are likely going to question employees about how they are operating, are they safe, what measures are in place etc. Having clear guidance for employees not only reassures the customer but also the employee – if they are having questions about their safety and they are not aware of the answer this could lead to concern about their personal safety.

Remember – having an answer to a question is much easier than the employee being put on the spot!


4 – Use and scrutinise your systems and processes

Many businesses have systems in place which are not fully utilised. This is an opportunity to review the way everything works in practice. Key questions will likely be:

  • Am I getting the most out of x software
  • What can I do to improve the situation?
  • Where can I remove human intervention which may be unsafe
  • What data do I have and how can I capture it differently

A clear example is one in retail I observed over the weekend. There was an issue with the price of a product I was purchasing and the cashier had to call a supervisor over, she entered a code into the checkout to allow the cashier to override the price. My observation is that this is completely unnecessary close contact. The cashier should have the privelage to override prices and the system should allow this to be authorised remotely or even better simply allow reports to be extracted to identify anyone who may be ‘abusing’ this facility. There are similar applications and similar issues across many business systems. Identify those ‘hotspots’ and challenge the traditional assumptions.

Remember – Just because this has always been the process doesn’t mean it always should be!


5 – Remember to communicate with those still Furloughed

With businesses returning to a more open state than last week it would be easy to put efforts into the new ways of working and therefore easy to forget to communicate with those who may still be on Furlough. Those employees may be asking – why wasn’t I in the first batch of people returning to work, am I no longer needed, am I less important?

There really is no easy way to manage this – employees who have retuned to work may resent those still furloughed who are being paid to be at home. Employees who are on Furlough may resent those who have returned to work. It is a difficult balance but a situation which will be massively improved through communication. Remember to diarise communicating with the furloughed team members as well as supporting those who are at work.


Phase 3 are experts in People Technology, if you need support with your people technology, processes or services please get in touch.


This article was written by James Proctor, Director of Consulting and Services at Phase 3.