HR tips and strategies for reopening after COVID-19

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

How retail employers can prepare their staff for a safe return to work

The National Cabinet has anticipations of reopening Australia in July. This is good news for many, especially retail workers. 

But before the thousands of Australian retail workers who were stood down get back to work, employers need to take critical steps to keep them safe and make them feel comfortable. 

How to prepare for a safe return to work

Understand your obligations as an employer

Before you start making any plans or open any doors for workers to return to work, it’s important to grasp what your responsibilities are as an employer. Work and Health Safety (WHS) laws were established prior to the pandemic and require employers to take care of workers’ health, safety and welfare as they get back to work. 

Safe Work Australia (SWA) has outlined specific COVID-19 safe workplace principles that you should familiarise yourself with before welcome employees back. These include parameters like social distancing, hygiene, sanitation, and emergency response plans. 

If one of your workers does fall ill, each state and territory health authority will have guidelines to follow in terms of addressing it. Additionally, you’ll need to thoroughly clean and disinfect the entire workplace before anyone can return.

Cleaning and sanitation

This is a big one for employers and employees alike. First, let’s consider the difference between cleaning and sanitising. According to SWA, cleaning is when you physically remove germs (bacteria and viruses), dirt and grime from surfaces using a detergent and water solution. Disinfecting is using chemicals to kill those germs. 

So, which do you need? Both. WHS recommends employers clean and then disinfect areas. 

Pay extra attention to surfaces that are frequently touched by workers and/or customers — cash registers, any POS stations, barcode scanners, door handles, changing room locks, hangers, displays, computers, etc. 

SWA has a cleaning guide you can print, share and reference as you go through the workplace. The Department of Health also has a list of recommendations for cleaning and disinfecting. 

Setting up the space

More than likely, your retail business is going to need some changes to the physical space. Specifically, social distancing requires a minimum of 1.5 metres between people. The Department of Health also requires four square metres of space for each individual.

The layout of your store will need to accommodate that space, which may require fewer displays and racks. Put physical markings on the floor — especially in locations where shoppers typically line up, like at the register or entrance. 

Ideally, you’ll be able to operate the business outdoors (e.g. in an open-air market or at a stall). But this isn’t always feasible. You could look to creative fulfillment models like curbside pickup or home delivery. 

Other key considerations for retailers: 

  • POS: Introduce contactless pay to reduce human-to-human and human-to-surface interactions. Many retailers are also installing plexi-glass partitions.
  • Dressing rooms: Apparel retailers will also more than likely need to eliminate changing rooms. On the plus side, you can repurpose this space to make more room for social distancing.
  • Sanitising stations: You’ll need these for staff and customers alike, ideally at the entrance/exit and POS. 
  • Break rooms: Like dressing rooms, many businesses are eliminating staff break rooms. 

Employee training

This is new for everyone, and your staff needs help adjusting to the new requirements for their roles. Provide training, processes and procedures documentation, signage and other information about how to stay safe during COVID-19. 

It’s important to do more than just post signage and offer training — you’ll want to take a personal approach and show support for your team. Mental health is important, and SWA has a full suite of resources to help you navigate. 

Related: Coronavirus: How HR leaders from Apple, Google and Nike are responding >

There are going to be a lot of questions from shoppers when your workers return to work. Anticipate these questions and provide scripts for your staff to use. Do the same for new ones that come in. Provide clear, written protocols on how to handle difficult or uncomfortable situations. 

Appoint a health and safety representative

Your staff can elect one or more health and safety representatives (HSRs) to represent their interests. HSRs can consult employers and then advise workers to cease work if there are unsafe conditions, including anything related to COVID-19. 

Reduce risk for workers

Employers have many responsibilities to do everything they can to keep staff safe on the job. New standards include staggered start teams and employer-provided personal protective equipment (PPE) like gloves, masks and sanitising products. 

Keep your vulnerable staff in mind too. SWA categorizes the following as vulnerable

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 50 years and older with one or more chronic medical conditions
  • People 65 years and older with one or more chronic medical conditions
  • People 70 years and older
  • People with compromised immune systems

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) has special provisions for vulnerable workers. This includes a risk assessment to determine if they need a change in role or absence. 

How to start hiring again

According to data from Candor, B2C companies and apparel and footwear brands have had the most layoffs. As businesses reopen and slowly pick up steam, you’re going to need to replace those furloughed workers, either with former employees or new ones. 

Once you know how many workers you need to run your store, you need to determine who those people are. Vulnerable workers have clearer guidelines in terms of what they can and cannot do, but there’s more to it than that. 

Start out by asking your workforce who wants to come back. Reiterate that any lack of desire to return to the workplace will not be used against them. Again, it’s important to make staff feel supported at this time. From there, you can determine whether you need more (or fewer) workers and how to manage scheduling and hiring. 

If you need to hire new staff, the Department of Education, Skills and Employment has a page where employers can list vacancies and get help finding candidates. 

Automate your new hire onboarding

We all have a lot going on right now, balancing our ever-changing normalcy with such difficult-to-predict circumstances. Even during “normal” times, complex onboarding processes are a major deterrent for new hires. In fact, convoluted onboarding is a key reason why 30% of workers leave an organisation within the first 90 days. 

One way to make the onboarding process less daunting for new hires and HR staff alike is to automate what you can. HR automation tools like Flare can eliminate paperwork, manage employee integration, provide the right training, and make everything go more quickly. Get a free demo of our HR software and onboarding software which is free for a limited time to support businesses who are returning to work.

Getting safely back to work

Reopening brings hope for retail businesses country-wide, and with it comes many concerns and responsibilities for employers and workers alike. As employers, it’s important to make the transition as smoothly as possible for staff, while offering them mental support along the way. 

For more advice on HR during COVID-19, we’ve listed a guide to the best free resources.

The National Cabinet has anticipations of reopening Australia in July. This is good news for many, especially retail workers.  But before the thousands of Australian retail workers who were stood down get back to work, employers need to take critical steps to keep them safe and make them feel comfortable.  How to prepare for a […]