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A step by step guide on preparing to return to work during a pandemic

Updated: Jun 14, 2022

Following our most recent blog on things to think about when returning to work after COVID-19 we wanted to provide you with a more detailed, step by step guide on how to get your office and work environment ready to return to work. If you have any questions or would like further information on any of the points outlined, then please do let us know and we will do our best to help you. You can also visit the GOV.UK website for more employer guidance and direction as this will be continually updated.

1. COMMUNICATIONS It is important that from the beginning all employees know where they should be and when they are expected to return to work. Create a team or designate an ‘officer’ within each phase of returning to work and each shift that will be available via phone or email. The aim of this is to ensure smooth communications between you and your employees. Employees can communicate to their ‘officer’ if they are feeling unwell or presenting symptoms of the virus as well as direct any questions they may have about their return to work. All confirmed cased should be reported to the managers and HR to allow them to amend their internal policies.

2. SELECTION OF EMPLOYEES Begin by creating a list of employees and departments that are critical to the business and are needed to return to work before others. You will need to identify the members of staff that you would classify as high risk and therefore may not be suitable to return to work straight away. These may include anyone with existing medical conditions, those living with somebody who is displaying symptoms or who has contracted the illness themselves. They may also be living with someone who is considered as vulnerable and this too must be taken into consideration. Also take into consideration anyone that is living with a key worker, has children or if someone needs to use public transport to get to work.

3. PHASED RETURNING Starting with the employees that you have identified as critical to the business, make sure you are phasing the amount of people that return to work each week. After the first phase make sure you review how it went and whether you are ready to bring in the next phase of your team. Have in mind how many people you would like to start with in phase 1 and how many people you would like in each phase thereafter always bearing in mind the selection of employees that you have outlined above.

4. STAGGERED WORKING HOURS Within each phase you must stagger working hours as much as possible. This could include part time hours or shift rotation for those members of staff that have returned to work.

5. OFFICE & ON-SITE PRECAUTIONS It is so important that before anyone returns to work you have considered all the in-house precautions that you will need to take. Your main goal is to ensure that the risk of infection upon entering the office is as low as possible therefore, enforced social distancing within the workplace and advanced hygiene steps must be taken.

Please consider the following points for making sure you have made all the relevant precautions: • Temperature checks should be taken outside the office upon arrival (anyone with a temperature or cough should be sent home before entering the building) • Hand sanitiser should be available upon entering the building and once again upon entering the office • Everyone must have their own, allocated desk (no hot desking) which will be spaced 2 metres apart from the neighbouring desk (if possible, use screens just like they have been using in supermarkets) • Disinfectant should be made available to ensure all surfaces and desk spaces are wiped clean on an hourly basis. • Provide face masks and gloves wherever possible and consider purchasing more bins so people can discard of waste safely.

6. NO INTERNAL MEETINGS OR EXTERNAL VISITORS One of the amazing things to come out of all of this has been how adaptable businesses can be with regards to staying in touch with everyone during lockdown. Skype, Zoom, Facetime and phone calls have all made it possible to continue with communication even though we have not been able to meet in person. This must continue and at no point should face to face meetings be considered yet at this stage. You must not arrange meetings with external visitors yet and anyone that arrives at the office who is not a member of staff should be turned away.

7. REVIEWS, FEEDBACK & REFLECTIONS Make sure you are constantly reviewing all the above points to make sure that your business is moving in the right direction. Get feedback from you employers and designated officers as often as possible of what was meant to happen, what actually happened, what may have been learned and what you need to do differently going forward. If something has not gone to plan, do not dwell on it but make sure you can learn and move on with all the necessary precautions now in place.

8. WELLBEING & MENTAL HEALTH SUPPORT A global pandemic is not something that we come across very often in a lifetime and COVID-19 has caused ripples across the world within a very short space of time. Now more than ever the wellbeing of your staff must come as a priority. Some of your employees will be stronger as a result of this, some will have found self-isolation and lockdown a struggle and many may now need clinical support.  Make sure that everybody knows where they can go for support and who they can speak to. Encourage them to seek support and speak out if they are struggling. Perhaps you could appoint people within your company to act as a ‘go to’ if people are feeling particularly vulnerable, after all a problem shared is often a problem halved.

We have focused on wellbeing and mental health a lot over the last few months here at Whitcombe HR and you may find some of the resources we have available especially useful. You may be feeling particularly stressed right now, and this is completely normal. Please email for our free stress container exercise. We also may be able to help if you need a ‘go to’ person for your employees, we offer this as part of our service and have Natalie our mental health first aider on hand.

Please follow our social media channels where we post different tips each week on how to promote self-care and suggest different activities and exercises to help with stress and mental health.

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