As Australia begins to re-open doors to businesses, company leaders are also starting to plan what the return to work will look like for their own employees. This can feel very overwhelming, as there are many factors to take into consideration – from keeping workers safe to minimising any disruptions to daily operations. To help, we put together the most critical HR strategies that can help you implement a safe, effective transition back to the office.
HR strategies for the return to work
When it comes to planning out the return to work, most organisations have one question in mind: how do we safely bring our employees back to the workplace, while also balancing the most urgent needs of the business? The good news is that there are ways to successfully strike this balance. To do so, we recommend leaning into these HR strategies:
Reimagine the office
The traditional office space must be reimagined to address concerns around COVID-19. This includes everything from physically changing the format to completely eradicating features associated with a typical office. Below are specific actions you can take to make your workspace safer for employees:
- Incorporate social distancing into the layout. According to Safe Work Australia, there must be 4 square metres of space per person in a given space to practice safe social distancing. Before your employees return to the office, make sure your desks are laid out to follow these guidelines. This means no more hot desking and, at least for the meantime, no more collaboration areas like meeting rooms or cafeterias.
- Establish a cleaning and sanitation routine. No matter how many people you plan to have back in the office, there has to be an intensive cleaning and sanitation routine in place. In addition to setting up hand sanitizers and hand-washing stations around the office, employers should look into services that can safely clean and sanitise the office space everyday. Or, if you prefer to do that internally, you can follow these guidelines from Safe Work Australia and The Department of Health.
Prioritise health and safety
The top priority of all organisations is to keep their employees healthy and safe as they transition back to the workplace. There are many things that HR and company leaders can do proactively to minimise any risks of contracting COVID-19 at the office. Here are a few suggestions:
- Provide PPE. PPE, or Personal Protective Equipment, is critical to keeping employees safe during these times. If you have the resources to do so, provide your workers with face masks, sanitation wipes, and gloves to use in the office – along with proper instructions on how to effectively use this equipment. This will reduce the risk of contamination and also relieve the burden of employees having to find and purchase this PPE for themselves.
- Take care of your most vulnerable workers. While some employees may be eager to return to the office, there are likely many who are not. And for good reason. If you have employees who are part of a vulnerable population, or live with someone who is, you don’t want to risk their health by sending them back to the office. Work with them to consider alternative options. For instance, if your organisation is able to accomodate a hybrid workforce, then allow the employees who don’t feel safe going into work to be remote, while others go back to the office.
- Maintain remote processes. For the time being, you may also want to continue maintaining some remote processes. Hiring and onboarding, for example, are HR operations that can be seamlessly done remotely and is an effective way to reduce the risk for all parties involved. That’s why we currently have a Return to Work Offer that gives you Flare at absolutely no cost and allows you to level up your HR processes virtually.
Prepare your employees
It’s not enough to simply have your company leaders come up with a plan to return to work in silos. Your employees also need to be looped into this process and understand what their role is in facilitating a successful transition back to the office. We share a few strategies to help your employees get ready to go back to work:
- Be transparent. The return to work will, once again, shake up the lives of your employees. Knowing this, it’s critical to be as transparent as possible about what this transition will look like so that your workers aren’t caught off guard. Use this time to share the leadership team’s thoughts and collect employee feedback – this can inform important aspects of your plan. For instance, you may find that many employees are resistant to the idea of returning to the workplace so soon, and they may demand an extended timeline for the transition. These issues are better to catch early on in the process rather than later, which can be achieved by being as communicative and honest with employees as possible.
- Offer health training and education. Employers shouldn’t assume that their employees are aware of health and safety protocols. Everything, from proper handwashing techniques to social distancing rules in the workplace, should be information that’s readily accessible – whether that’s in the form of an employee guide or a pre-recorded training session that everyone is required to complete. HR leaders and managers should also be prepared to answer any questions related to health and safety.
- Have a back-up plan. There’s a chance that going back to the physical office can lead to an uptick in COVID-19 cases. Knowing this, every organisation should have a plan for the worst-case scenario. What will we do if one of our employees contracts COVID-19? If the government decides we have to go back to remote work, how can we make that transition as seamless as possible? These are important questions that all HR leaders should have an answer to ahead of the return to work.
Even though it may feel intimidating now to think about going back to work, taking proactive measures will ensure that the process is as stress-free as possible. Following the HR strategies we outlined will help you come up with a plan that prioritises the health and safety of your employees, while also protecting your business.
Flare currently has a completely free Return To Work Offer to help organisations build resilient HR operations, employee onboarding and engagement strategies. Flare works with thousands of brands like H&M, Accor Hotels, and Hudson to provide services around compliance, onboarding, and HR communications at no cost. If you want to learn more about how Flare HR can support your business and employees during this time, please request a demo.
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