For one’s sanity, living in the present is key, during this extraordinary period of lockdown. Looking too much to the future will cause worry and looking back is likely to lead to severe nostalgia, with negative mental impact. Therein lies the great dichotomy as business owners must look forward to plan effectively for the health and welfare of their business and employees.
What does a potential unlocking, in its various guises, mean for your business?
In deciding how to move forward, we suggest that there are a number of key questions to consider.
The “What don’t we know”:
- What will be better for your business, in the way that you run it over the next few months, to ensure its viability?
- What are the pros and cons of having everyone continue to work at home?
- What are the risks to your employees and their health and well-being if they: a) stay at home and b) return to the office?
- What sort of risk assessment do you need to do?
- Whom else do you need to consult with to run your risk assessment?
- What are the key roles and activities that really have to be done in the workplace itself or, for example, at client sites, and how many people fall into this category?
- Assuming homeworking continues, how often will people need to visit the workplace?
- Could there be a legal breach of contract, by not providing the workplace? Is, therefore, consultation necessary?
- What, if any, cost implications might there be in implementing changes to enable office working?
- What is going to be done about individuals who are told that the office is open, but who are shielding the vulnerable and who do not want to come back to work, or may start to experience mental health challenges because they are anxious about the return to the workplace? Would a disciplinary procedure be appropriate? How would you deal with this?
The “What we do know”:
- For sure, we will be required to support social distancing with a figurative, if not a literal, bubble of 1-2 metres, for the foreseeable future.
- This will have huge consequences for the physical workspace, for the possibility of staggered hours, for the number of people who can safely enter and exit the building, for the method of travel and for a workplace that must be equipped for appropriate sanitation in its various forms.
- The situation is likely to evolve and change over time and so any plans you develop need to adapt with not only your business needs but the wider social implications.
The questions are overwhelming and we are already formulating answers to these. What is apparent is that a clear vision is required about the new ways of working and contact with employees will need to be regular and as transparent as possible. The principles of employment legislation are still in play, both statute and contract, and therefore the terms of the contract must be closely scrutinised to ensure the optimal outcome for both employers and employees.
We need to communicate constantly with employees, both those who wish to work at home, those who wish to return to the office, those on furlough and those working throughout the lockdown. The psychological contract between employer and employee has never been more important as both physical distance and a constantly changing situation create evolving challenges that need to be addressed in a timely manner.
Whether legal aspects, psychological or communication issues, do please get in touch if you need help or facilitation on the transition period from total lockdown.