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5 HR and payroll steps to action as staff return to the office

The word ‘lockdown’, I’m sure we are all sick of it. The are we/aren’t we chatter, the when will it end, will we be in and then back out – it’s exhausting really. From a personal perspective it’s challenging enough, but if managers and leaders are looking to HR to provide advice and guidance on how to handle the slow and steady return to work (if work has ever changed for you) then here is my advice.

First though, I want to challenge the concept of the ‘new normal’. For keyworkers like those who work in healthcare, supermarkets, public spaces or factories, work has likely continued and maybe even been more hectic. Although it’s likely that everyone’s working routines have been changed slightly, it should be acknowledged that for many, terms like ‘furlough’ and ‘remote-working’ haven’t come into play.

However, for those in HR and payroll who are trying to coordinate their businesses to the office, I suggest the steps you should take to make this transition as smooth as possible.

1. Consider the return and nothing more.

For most office workers, it has been a long time since they have worked in their usual environment, with most having had to make do with weird working hours and even weirder work stations.

It’s important that we think through the practical things for employees before they get back to work and try to understand how you can make this easy, for example:

• Have the alarm codes changed in the past 3 months?
• Have there been changes to the layout of the building to account for social distancing?
• Is the car park still available?

Although only small things, stuff like this will add to the already highly charged idea of being back in the office. Making these changes and steps transparent and simple for employees upon their return is a clear win to reduce workplace anxiety for day one. Plus, it eliminates some of the issues that will arise on those first days back, saving time in the long run.

Action: Have a planned communication strategy and approach to return, and ensure communication happens effectively and in time.

2. Ensure you are following the guidance.

There is a wealth of guidance available, from how social distancing should work to how to make toilets and kitchens safe. Ensure you have the correct guidance in place and that your staff are aware of these changes before entering the building.

We suggest that you also implement a way of people self-disclosing if they are showing symptoms of COVID-19, and if so that they can also track who they have worked most closely with. A practical tip here is to ensure calendars are up to date, particularly if meetings are the norm, so it is easy to see who people have interacted with if necessary.

Action: Implement guidance and ensure all staff have easy access to an update about how this is expected to work and what is expected of them.

3. Review your flexibility policies.

Many employees have become accustomed to working from home regularly, businesses have invested in technologies such as remote desktop services or virtual machines and employees will likely want to know – do I have to go back to the old ways of working? Whether they live with a vulnerable person and wish to continue shielding, or have found remote working to be more productive for them, they may wish to continue with this new way of life.

This is the ideal opportunity to identify what can be managed and what services won’t be affected by your team working remotely. After the initial rush of office buzz, I do expect some kickback from people quickly being bored of the morning commute. And realistically, rightly so. If this has proven nothing else for many companies, it is that the office space does not need to be occupied Monday to Friday from 9 until 5 by every employee to keep the business going. It’s shown that our staff are much more versatile than we often give them credit for, and working remotely is a very real possibility for many businesses.

Action: Gain feedback from staff on how they would like to move forward with remote working, if it worked for them or not and if they’d like it to be more available. Then, with this information, address your flexibility policies.

4. What about Payroll?

The last thing an employee returning to work from home working or returning from furlough wants is to be paid incorrectly in their first month back, particularly as the cost of the commute, getting lunches out and more may be an additional expense for them. For many, this period has been one of financial uncertainty and we must ensure that we are doing everything we can to be on our staff’s side and this means making sure we pay them correctly and punctually.

Action: Keep payroll updated with the relevant absence and attendance to ensure employees are paid correctly.

5. Be kind and remember not everyone will want to be back.

There have been many lives lost over the past few months and all of these people had family and relatives, some may have even been in your staff. As well as that, the number of people who have found their lives turned upside-down, whether by loss, financial issues, job losses or more is incomprehensible right now.

Remember that employees returning to an office may need a little additional support from you, their colleagues and perhaps third parties such as employee assistance programs. We cannot know what every member of our team has been through during this period. Bear in mind that some will still be nervous about being in the office with others, whilst others will not care and may push the boundaries on social distancing. A culture of respect and tolerance will be required to make it through.

Action: Set clear rules for those returning regarding social distancing and talk to staff about being considerate during this time. Also, meet with your staff to discuss with them their feelings about being back and what support you may be able to provide them.

Above all – stay safe. This time has been hard for many and will likely be hard for a long time still for some. We have to do everything we can to put our staff in the best position possible and help them get through this, and that will, in turn, help our businesses thrive.

From a range of payroll services to Business Continuity Plans, here at Phase3, we are ready to step in and help you in any way that we can. Get in touch with our team today to find out how we might be able to aide your transition into this new era.

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