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Each day, the light at the end of the tunnel is becoming brighter. Australians are excited at the prospect of regaining entry to the workplace. But what does this mean for employers? Just as organisations worked around the clock to put a remote working strategy in place, it is just as critical to effectively plan for employees to physically return to the workplace.

The following tips will assist employers to plan for a workplace when restrictions are eased for each state and territory:

Safety first – always

A critical part of the return to work strategy will be the health and safety of your team. It is recommended employers complete (or revise) their pandemic risk assessment in consultation with workers, and update their COVID-19 management plan which will outline to employees how the infection risks will be managed, whilst also raising the profile of safety of employees when they return. 

This will require clarifying and reinforcing what social distancing and additional hygiene will look like in the workplace. Help employees to understand why desks will be further apart, why shifts may be staggered and why the communal biscuit tin is no longer a good idea. Employers need to consider all workplace rituals and communicate how things will be different.

These new rules and rituals should be clearly disseminated through all levels of the business and displayed in key contact areas such as meeting rooms, kitchens and bathrooms.

Tackle the logistics

Employers need to think about a logistics strategy to return to the physical workplace. There are many things to consider such as:

  • Which employee groups will return first?
  • What is the plan to have monitors, chairs and other equipment returned?
  • Will there be a change to rosters and start times?
  • Who is coming back full time and who will stay at home?
  • Will remote working remain an option to employees?
  • How will social distancing be achieved with current seating arrangements?
  • Do hot desks compromise hygiene?
  • How will lunch room seating change?
  • Will the communal chill out zones remain an option?
  • What is the meeting room limit?

There is great benefit in getting the decision makers together through technology and talk about the many logistical considerations to ensure a harmonious and safe return to the workplace.

Address the elephant in the room

Unless you have been living under a rock, the catastrophic nature of the pandemic is clear. Some employers will be tempted to put on a brave face and tell employees that everything will be fine – but that is unlikely to be true.  If sales are down 35% or 15 employees have been stood down, it is imperative to be transparent. Hiding the truth will only lead to employees losing trust and doubting the authenticity of their leaders.

The truth may be ugly, but a crisis also has magical uniting powers. Prepare a communication plan to share any critical information about the business, the market and changes within the workplace.  Employees have had enough surprises – transparency cannot be understated in times of change.

Build the employee support proposition

Life pre COVID-19 was extremely different and whilst undoubtedly employees still had to navigate personal issues, the pandemic has created a pressure cooker environment that has placed a strain on mental health.

The demands for mental health providers and Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) has never been higher.  It is naïve to believe that all will be fine when workers return to the office. 

For some employees, they have suffered more than a few scratches and anxiety and depression is on the rise. Employers are encouraged to look carefully at their support offering to employees and send a constant and clear message that the road ahead does not need to be walked alone.

Its time to reassess the workplace set up

Irrespective of whether your workplace is traditional or more communal and open planned, it needs to be reassessed.  At minimum, workplaces need to be able to accommodate employees under the guidelines of social distancing. This means that some cubicle set ups and even some communal work spaces are now off the table.

The challenge for employers is to work creatively within the space provided to ensure that employees have a safe and functional workspace. In addition, employees are coming back from a home environment where they combined their desk with more comfortable work spaces. To help counterbalance the perks of home, employers are encouraged to think about how they can better simulate the desired features of a work from home environment.

Consider how the culture post COVID-19 will be embraced

Culture can’t be seen, but it most certainly can be felt. Now is the perfect time for employers to carefully consider the culture that they would like to build or embrace.

Remote working has provided a valuable insight into what employees need and value. For example, consider sending out a survey to employees to ask them about what they valued and would like to see more of from their work from home experience. 

This information will help to shape current and future policies and rituals that will ultimately become the heartbeat of the organisation.

Think about how the diversity of your teams can be further embraced

Diversity is more than just about gender, race or religion. This crisis has highlighted the value of diversity of thought and experiences and has shown us how we can embrace the strengths of others – even when they are different to ours. This is partly due to a requirement to rely on our workmates in ways like never before.

When preparing for the return to the physical workspace, organisations have an opportunity to further embrace the differences of employees within the work teams and leverage diversity as a powerful enabler.

Summary 

Returning to the physical workplace is inevitable and whether employees come back skipping or dragging their feet – they will return. Organisations are encouraged to use this time wisely to plan what the physical workspace post COIVD-19 will look and feel like.

Sure – it will be different, but with change comes opportunity and whilst we may never forget the year a pandemic sent us home to work, it also opened our eyes to a new way of work that just may shape the workplace of tomorrow.

Further assistance

For  assistance with any workplace matter, Ai Group members can contact us or call the Workplace Advice Line on 1300 55 66 77.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice and resources

Ai Group is continually publishing new COVID-19 advice and resources for employers:

  • Specific HR Resource Centre and Health & Safety Resource Centre content to assist members during the COVID-19 pandemic can be found here.
  • Dedicated COVID-19 member advice, industry news, resources and latest information can be found here.

Join Ai Group today!

Take advantage of more than 140 years of experience actively solving Members’ workplace issues and representing their interests at the highest levels of national and state government. Being a Member of Ai Group makes good business sense. 

Download our brochure to see why you should join and call us on 1300 55 66 77 or visit our Why join page to sign up for a consultation with one of our member representatives.

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