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Covid-19: How organisations are preparing for the end of lockdown

4 May 2020 - Blog, Covid-19, News

Covid-19: How organisations are preparing for the end of lockdown

At the time of writing, industry has been told that the government will provide detailed guidance on safe workplaces this afternoon, 11th of May. At People Insight we’ve heard some great people-centric approaches from our clients and how their organisations are preparing for the end of lockdown. We’ve talked to 30 organisations across the private, public and not for profit sectors. This article looks at:

  1. How are organisations preparing for the end of lockdown?
  2. What does a good Employee Experience look like now and going forwards?

Covid-19: How are organisations preparing for the end of lockdown?

There’s no going back to normal

Talking to our clients, one thing seems universal; there is no going ‘back’. Employees used to home working, whilst looking forward to getting out of the house, expect at least some home working and flexibility to continue now it has been shown effective. Luring them out of the safety of their homes to communal buildings requires significant reassurances of safety and a great deal of trust.

 “We are not in a rush to move our employees back into offices. Whilst we did take early action to move our employees to homeworking, our stance is to take a deliberately measured and phased approach to returning to our offices. This is very much a marathon not a sprint and our Senior Leaders are very clear that their priority is to continue to protect employees and client’s wellbeing as well as the future health of the organisation.”

Fiona Wallace, Head of Organisational Effectiveness, Brewin Dolphin

Three things are true:

  1. If organisations have built up trust in the way they are currently handling the lockdown, they’ll be on the front foot for ‘the great unlock’.
  1. Leaders who have led in line with their purpose and values through Covid-19 will have reaped the benefits in terms of employee engagement. Continuing this philosophy through the next stage will help people transition to a different normal. Yes, physically the experience will be different, but emotionally there can be positive consistencies.
  1. Negating our peoples’ concern and anxiety about coming back to work requires us to think through our people’s unique circumstances; there may be many different solutions for different employees.

“We are thinking holistically about our future return to working on Campus from both a practical and a wellbeing perspective, and planning the support that our staff may need and the changes in working practices that we might need to make or consider based on the current changes to traditional working patterns.”

Rachael Rowson, Associate Director of People (Operations), University of Bradford

#1 Challenge: social distancing measures

Social distancing is probably here for some time, and office buildings, factories and warehouses – planned to accommodate a certain headcount, now have us scratching our heads. 

Many of us have enjoyed the luxury of flexible office working spaces, communal kitchens and hot desks, designed to promote our employee experience and encourage us to be our most productive. Preparing for the end of lockdown will see peace lilies and sofas removed in favour of a one-way circulation route and wipe down instructions.

How will we react to these new environments? Time will tell; but here’s a number of solutions from organisations preparing for a gradual return to work at the end of lockdown:

  1. De-densifying the office layout – anyone who has seen a central London office will be challenged to make a space that previously squeezed in 100 people now house 30, 2 metres apart. Where can the other 60 go? Will they work from home, do we have any other spaces?
  2. Who works from home? Asking a significant number of staff to work from home permanently, or at least, frequently will have to consider individual needs and possibly complete a risk assessment in some circumstances. Considerations may include: home working for those who rely on public transport or lift shares, have family members to shield or other increased caring responsibilities.

“Working from home is a new feature for many our team and outside the typical 9-5. We are adapting well using tools like video conferencing but do miss the social interaction and it’s not always easy to see who is struggling. For some, home working will feature more post Covid-19 and we will need to continually adapt our workplace, technology, processes and communications to a ‘hybrid system’ where some people are in-office and others are working remotely.”

Ken Hayhurst, Group Training Manager, Hexadex
  1. Dividing staff into teams – rotating team A and B between office and home working to minimise contact, the risk of infection and maintain business continuity should anyone show symptoms.
  2. Staggering attendance at the canteen in 15-minute slots at spaced out tables.
  3. Establishing one in, one out in office loos and shops.
  4. Marking out one-way systems in high footfall areas such as receptions and corridors.
  5. Restricting guests on site.
  6. Intensifying cleaning regimes from cleaning companies and providing onsite gels, sprays and wipes.
  7. Designing clean-down policies and reduced capacity for meeting rooms.
  8. Reducing communal kitchen resources; dirty crockery and cutlery present potential hazards.
  9. Limiting the use of lifts to those that need them most.
  10. Establishing guidance on and perhaps provision of masks, gloves, plastic screens or any other protective equipment. Many are waiting for government guidance on this; however, employees may request PPE whether it is officially recommended or not.
  11. Considering wearable technology In Belgium, some port workers are wearing Romware social distancing bands that buzz to alert the wearer if they are getting too close to another individual. Of course, we also await the UK Covid-19 contact tracing app and digitised immunity passports in development.
  12. Developing guidance on how to deal with non-compliance.
  13. Outlining when a temporary breach of social distancing measures may be allowed; in the case of a fire alarm or other workplace emergencies. 
  14. Ensuring equality and diversity policies are maintained. E.g. shielding, working from home and mobility in the office may affect some groups of employees more than others.
  15. Reviewing sustainability policies; there may be a need for more disposable materials and less shared resources to ensure hygiene.

Organisations like Work.Life, who provide co-working space across the UK, have issued guidance on how they are preparing to manage social distancing when lockdown ends: See Work.Life’s guidance here

Establishing working from home for the long term will require some policy considerations

Since the rapid switch to working from home, there have been a number of longer-term issues to consider:

  1. BYOD – or bring your own device; business leaders will also have to determine whether to give employees company-owned phones and computers — accompanied by an acceptable use policy — or permit employees to use their own devices, and consider then the related security implications.
  1. Post lockdown, if an employee works in a coffee shop, what happens if they have to take a phone call that contains sensitive information, or they log in to a public WiFi network? Is this acceptable?
  1. Will the organisation deploy employee tracking applications such as Hubstaff or Clicktime to monitor work time and activity, and support employees with productivity challenges. Or is this too ‘Big Brother’ and unacceptable to employees in the current culture?
  1. With more collaborative working online, policies may now need to include a position on cyber bullying and harassment.

Rethinking the office altogether

Office space is expensive. With a proportion of our staff working from home effectively, we still may not have enough space to appropriately distance office-based workers, so will the cost of our buildings fall to meet demand, or will we just increase the proportion that work from home? We’ll be seeking more lease flexibility to upscale and downsize as we need.

Rethinking the factory or warehouse

Cars can’t be built at the kitchen table. We hope demand for our manufactured goods will increase, but if we can’t increase staff numbers and social distance them, will replacing humans with robots further expand?

Making sure we are in shape intellectually, financially and culturally for the next disruption

“Preparing for the next crisis (or the next phase of the current crisis) now is likely to be much more effective than an ad hoc, reactive response when the crisis actually hits”.

HBR

Well into our business continuity plans, we’ll soon have time to reflect how well we were prepared for Covid-19. The only certainty is that this won’t be the last event to dramatically change our organisations and our people. Organisations may have taken an intellectual and financial approach to business continuity planning, but as outlined above, the ones that also prepared their cultures for change will have had the greatest chance of bringing their people through.

What does a great Employee Experience look like in a Covid-19 world?

Aside from remote working, which must be adopted as a business as usual operating model going forward, the learnings during this period have helped us identify best practice for the employee experience going forwards.

  1. Better communication: Enhanced focus on timely, transparent, empathetic and less formal communication. Where communication has worked well, people have felt valued to be made privy to information about the organisation they perhaps wouldn’t normally hear.
  1. Availability of online training & development: Learning and growth opportunities are the factors most strongly correlated with employee engagement in People Insight’s survey data. The present global business environment has created an opportunity to upskill employees for their existing as well as potential roles.

“We have introduced a scheme where we can temporarily redeploy employees who cannot carry out their normal role, or who have reduced workloads. It allows those employees to have meaningful work and develop new skills at the same time.” 

Fiona Wallace, Brewin Dolphin

Find out how organisations are having virtual performance reviews and organising training during the pandemic.

  1. The right tech & equipment: Was there ever anything so infuriating as a slow laptop or a system that keeps crashing? Good tech has to become a hygiene factor for productivity and performance, and will make all the difference to a candidate weighing up your job offer vs. a competitor.
  1. Facilitating collaboration: All the fun activities we’ve engaged in during this time shouldn’t dry up once lockdown is over. They are the human glue that helps people get to know each other and break barriers that prevent two people in an organisation picking up the phone to each other.
  1. Social responsibility: We’ve given, donated and volunteered during this time – as organisations and individuals, and found this experience meaningful and rewarding. Facilitate, and expect requests for volunteering time, corporate action and giving to continue.

“We have increased our employee volunteering days so that people can take 5 days during 2020, as well as allowing employees to draw down from our community fund. Supporting our local communities is a core part of our engagement and culture and our employees have told us that they have welcomed these additional measures.”

Fiona Wallace, Brewin Dolphin
  1. Wellbeing focus must continue: Lockdown has been tough, and we’ve been ready with advice, materials, groups and calls during this time to support our people. We should continue this human approach and maintain access to two-way communication and listening to our people.
  1. Employee listening and responding has served our people well; they have felt involved and respected, and leaders have gained diverse input to solve problems.

Want to know more about Employee Listening Programmes?
Find out more here

Employee engagement during Covid-19: People Insight resources  

Take a look at our blog posts full of advice for HR, line managers and employees. Download our free question index below.

  1. Should you be surveying during COVID-19?
  2. COVID-19: How organisations are adapting
  3. Employee surveys during COVID-19: Free question index  
  4. Line managers: Creating a new normal during COVID-19  
  5. Support for HR: Keeping employees engaged and motivated during COVID-19 
  6. Our favourite Wellbeing content to get us through Covid-19 lockdown
  7. Not alone but lonely: How to tackle workplace isolation and improve wellbeing at work

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