As an HR leader, you play an integral role in getting your workplace up and running again as the phased restart gets underway.

The responsibilities facing HR leaders will continue to be challenging, often requiring swift decision making in unchartered territory. It’s difficult at this stage to know how our offices will restart and there is a very real risk that we will experience subsequent waves of the pandemic, so workplaces will be required to resight and adapt accordingly.

At its core, the logistics of a restart will be hugely influenced by human considerations. Yes, there are obviously significant operational arrangements to consider, but as an HR leader, your responsibilities involve the health, safety, confidence and trust of your people. I’ve put together a brief checklist below to help you begin thinking about how to gear up your workplace once restrictions are eased with these things in mind.

  1. Do your employees feel safe?

Just because you’re thinking about the safety of your staff, doesn’t mean that they will necessarily feel safe. For many, going back into the office will involve using public transport each day and navigating a busy urban environment while adhering to social distancing restrictions. As an initial measure, comprehensively plot out the safety measures you’re going to put in place and how you going to communicate this to your employees.

  1. What options do your employees have?

Having done this, you then need to ensure that your staff have a variety of available options so they can return to the office when they feel ready. Whilst some of this will fall under the responsibility of operations, from an HR perspective it is valuable to seek feedback from staff around your organisation about how employees are feeling about going back into the office – this may vary considerably. Employees who don’t feel ready for whatever reason should have a variety of options to choose from as the situation continues to evolve.

  1. Have you addressed your employees’ wider wellbeing?

Your responsibility as an HR leader extends to supporting your staff with their wellbeing more generally as they adjust to new circumstances. Almost everyone will be experiencing disruption to their personal lives from managing childcare to commuting and socialising with others. Make sure any resources you make available to your staff encompass this, and be on hand to react to any issues where your employees’ wellbeing is concerned.

  1. Is your return to work strategy staggered?

Obviously any relaxing of lockdown restrictions won’t mean that your whole workforce will be getting back into the office. At the very most, we are likely to shift to certain teams returning under different timetables. Most organisations will be likely consider a staggered approach, and your value as an HR professional here is taking into account the needs and preferences of different groups who are expected to be phased back into office working.  

  1. Are you prioritising productivity?

Prioritising who to bring back into the office needs to also take the question of productivity into account. Some teams and business functions will be flying on a remote basis, while others haven’t been able to adapt as smoothly. Think about accommodating the latter when thinking about considering different groups coming back into the office.

  1. Are your employees aware of the precautions you’re taking?

You’ll know that the health and safety of your employees comes first at all times, but your employees need to know this now more than ever. It’s crucial that your employees are aware of the precautions you are taking, which at a minimum should involve:

Inform your employees of any and all measures you are taking so they know that you have considered all the precautions.

  1. Are you being transparent about the risks involved?

Even if you put in place all possible health and safety precautions, it’s important to be transparent about the unavoidable risk of transmitting the disease. While hopefully this risk is small, be realistic and open about it. As transmission is fluctuating on a daily basis, come up with a simple and regular way to communicate the risk to your employees and try to balance this by also referring to the precautions you have in place to mitigate it.

The right to choose

However your workplace handles a gradual transition back to working from the office, the right to choose whether your workforce returns or remains working remotely should be at the core of any approach. I’d advise HR leaders to advocate an employee-led return the office, so your staff feel safe and supported as your workplace gradually gets back in action.

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