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Workplace health & safety: 5 considerations before employees return

12 Feb 2021

Returning to the workplace is likely to be a monitored and staggered approach

A Gartner study on how leaders plan to “manage” the return found that 94% plan to limit face-to-face meetings in the office, 91% will enforce stricter health and safety guidelines concerning masks and hand sanitisers, and 83% will limit or sequence employee attendance at the office.

However, while this study gives us an idea of how leaders see things progressing, every business is different and there’s no standard approach.

Businesses around the world are looking for guidance on how to organise their return. So what are the biggest considerations to think about?

  1. Do all employees need to come back?

Many businesses have announced that they plan to make remote and hybrid working a permanent fixture in their future business plans.

Our Future Ready Report highlighted that 44% plan to make remote working more common in the long term.

So the first step is identifying who needs to come back.

For manufacturers, warehouses and ports, for example, having people on-site to supervise — even with the technology in place to automate — is crucial.

For office-based roles, however, like those involving phone calls and face-to-face meetings, it makes more sense to continue working remotely.

Especially as Unified Communications and collaboration tools can support people wherever, whenever.

  1. What do employees need to know about returning to work?

It’s going to be a transition for employees — not only will the workplace have changed, but new health and safety measures will also be in place too.

As well as managing those that do return, those working from home or in the field will need to be told what’s happening.

This includes answers to questions such as: when will they be returning?

Will their hours or start times be normal, or will they be staggered?

Who else will be in the office? Will the office layout be different and what new policies are in place to ensure a safe return?

All these issues will need to be considered and employees informed of exactly what is happening before they are expected to come back to the workplace.

Similarly, employees who stay remote will need to know what the rules for flexible working are and how this will work alongside those employees who are back in the office.

  1. Creating a safe work environment

Spaces and desks

Another thing to think about is where employees will work and what spaces they will use.

To avoid congestion and adhere to social distancing, consider a desk-booking system.

This allows employees returning to the office to reserve a desk space for the day (or several hours) and for others to see what spaces have already been taken.

Congested areas

If employees are returning to the office, are there areas that people gather or meet at that could be considered a health and safety risk?

If so, look at the layout of the workplace and identify where you can make changes to help improve health and safety immediately. For example, you could reduce the number of desks or install one way systems.

Over time, you could invest in Worker Insights which will help you understand how employees are using the workplace and provide data to inform changes to the layout.

This includes information on occupancy levels, monitoring no-go zones and ensuring employees are wearing a face mask and adhering to social distancing.

Alongside Worker Insights, desk booking and heat detection cameras can help to reduce risk in the workplace.

  1. What support is available for staff?

Without a doubt, employees are going to have concerns or questions about returning to the office and what is being done to protect their health and wellbeing.

Bupa Health Clinics found that two-thirds of the workforce say they have reservations about coming back.

To make the return as easy as possible, managers should make time to catch-up with employees and answer any questions they may have.

This can be a struggle for both small and large businesses — small businesses may not have the time or resource, whereas large businesses may have hundreds of thousands of employees to manage across the globe.

Some questions may only occur to employees out-of-hours, or their circumstances may change overnight and they need access to information right away.

Similarly, HR teams have to work quickly to distribute new information when circumstances change so employees know what to do.

For example, during COVID-19 when tier systems were being introduced and employees needed to know whether they’d be going into work the next day or working from home.

This is where an AI assistant can be useful — it can answer basic employee questions, direct users to the appropriate resources and escalate issues. This allows HR managers to spend more time on other tasks or specific employee concerns.

Providing confidence for employees

Transitioning from home to the office is going to need to be a carefully managed operation.

While there is still uncertainty around what the future of office working looks like, many businesses have already decided that remote and hybrid working is here to stay.

Other employees have been unable to work from home and are looking forward to returning to the workplace.

Businesses have a lot to consider when it comes to dealing with a completely new and different dynamic to how their workplace operates. Short-term management will be coupled with the challenge of adapting workplaces and work practices for the long term.

But no matter the business, health and safety are at the forefront of these new working models and technologies are helping to support the change.

Want to find out how Digital Health and Safety Solutions can help you manage a safe return to the workplace?

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