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5 min read

Welcoming staff back to work after furlough

Many people across the UK have been in furlough from March 2020, as government and businesses responded to the Covid-19 pandemic. With the Jobs Retention Scheme due to end in October, businesses can start welcoming back their staff into a new way of working.

Over 9 million people have been placed on furlough between April and August 2020, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. As sectors have gradually been reopened in recent months and the ‘new normal’ simply becomes ‘normal’, it’s time for furloughed staff to be welcomed back by businesses in a position to continue employing them.

For employers, this means essentially re-onboarding their teams and welcoming people back to work.

Clarify how the workplace has changed

For staff returning to on site roles

Following government guidelines, employers need to provide a Covid-secure workplace for returning staff. While this differs across sectors, generally the following guidelines apply:

  • Maintain social distancing measures, to reduce contact between colleagues, clients and customers.
  • Remove direct contact between people where possible, by using drop off points if items need passing between people, or closing off communal areas.
  • Provide clear signage, to remind employees of social distancing and personal hygiene guidelines. Place these in areas that can be easily seen by staff, such as at a doorway.
  • Increase frequency of cleaning, including of goods or merchandise delivered to site, vehicles used by staff and busier areas of the workplace.
  • A clear policy communicated to staff around the steps that should be taken if they feel unwell with Covid-19 symptoms, alongside visibility of who is in the workplace and when, so staff can be contacted and asked to self-isolate if needed.
  • Open dialogue with employees to manage risks, particularly for those in a vulnerable group, or those who come into close contact with others considered at higher risk.

Stay in-tune with your staff

While some have enjoyed time off as part of furlough, others are enthusiastic about a return to work and can’t wait to pick up where they left off. Acknowledging the range of sentiments within your workforce means that everyone can be re-engaged not only with their tasks, but with the wider team. Regularly share internal surveys both before, and following, a return to the workplace, to understand any concerns of employees and maintain an open dialogue.

Build a sense of belonging

With 46% of people who worked from home during the lockdown period experiencing loneliness, re-establishing a sense of community across your teams is essential to give furloughed staff the confidence to kick back into action in their role, and catch up with colleagues again. In today’s changing economy, businesses need to develop a sense of shared purpose within, and across, departments.

The little things can go a long way here too. You can kickstart employees’ return to work with positivity by offering ‘welcome’ packs – things like care packages that include hand sanitiser, or a gift card for a nearby coffee shop. It doesn’t have to be extravagant to be meaningful, especially for staff who have been furloughed for a significant period of time.

Strike the balance between routine and flexibility

Our research tells us that 59% of people are looking forward to returning to the workplace because they want to get some structure back in their lives. However, with 32% of UK workers (and 60% of Londoners) concerned about their safety on their commute, employers need to find a balance between getting people back into the swing of things and ensuring staff feel comfortable and safe, whether at, or on their way to, work.

Flexible start and finish times can help here. By allowing staff to travel outside of the typical rush hour, they can feel more in control and still get the benefits of a work routine – just within adjusted hours. If roles are able to be done remotely, this can also mean fewer people at in the workplace at any one time. In fact, a quarter of workers have asked if they can work from home indefinitely, while fifty of the biggest UK employers have no plans to bring staff back into the office full-time, in the near future.

Bring employees up to speed

While communication between a business and furloughed staff should be avoided during the furlough period, once staff are welcomed back, this might mean there’s even more for them to catch up on. Internal communications will provide a key role here. Consider creating a ‘go-to’ area of your employee intranet where people can find the most up to date information, to save them trawling through a backlog of emails.

While company events have been put on pause for the foreseeable, updates or conferences can continue to be held virtually, with people back in the office dialling in from their desks – don’t press pause on sharing business news just because people are unable to all be in one room together. Particularly for businesses continuing in a company-wide remote model for the coming months, maintaining strong communication across locations means everyone stays on the same page.

Covid-19 has meant businesses have had to adapt quickly, shifting their focuses and redrawing strategies to meet new goals in a changed market, and support staff through new challenges. With the end of October signalling the end of the furlough scheme, businesses can prepare to re-onboard staff and make sure they’re invested in new objectives, expectations and feel part of the team again.