Andy Hawkes talks about the importance of consulting with staff about your return to work plans to ensure success when reopening the workplace.

Like most of our clients, the Cardinus team became homeworkers in March and as the UK Government makes its tentative plans to unlock the nation, we are reviewing our strategy and tactics as to how, when, and if we return to the workplace. Indeed, we are helping many clients through this process.

As CEO of Cardinus, I have spent many hours with my team of experts from health and safety, security, facilities and mental health disciplines examining the risks and options. What has come across as critical is the need to communicate with the staff with absolute clarity and transparency at all stages of the process.

As well as looking at the macro UK Government data, the national medical and clinical data (I am lucky that I have a health and safety expert with an immunology and clinical risk background), we wanted to make sure that the feelings and anxieties of our staff, as well as their health, wellbeing and safety, are at the core of our decision making.

Surveying Staff

With that in mind, our first decision was to carry out a staff survey. We wanted to know what the homeworking experience has been like for each member of our team, and, most importantly we wanted to understand how they feel about a return to the workplace.

Not surprisingly there is a normal distribution of the range of views from those who say, “I can’t wait to get back to the office” to others who tell us, “I won’t go back to the office until a COVID-19 vaccine is here”.

It is vital that our plan considers these diverse views. Our move to 100% remote working has been a success and, like many, we have learnt that we can operate successfully as a virtual business. Our productivity and efficiency has been maintained, indeed improved in some areas, and we have ensured that our customers have had great service.

We have used all the technology and collaborative tools well and even those less tech-savvy have become masters of Zoom, Skype and Teams. Our approach from day one was to ensure that our staff were supported in the transition to remote working and it is even more important that we consult with them on the return to the workplace.

Consultation with Staff

We can have the best plans, with one-way systems, desk screens, facial recognition entry software, PPE, sanitizer stations and daily self-certified COVID-19 assessments, but if our staff are not in the loop and not consulted at every stage there is the danger we won’t have 100% support for the plan and it will fail.

Consultation with staff has allowed us to pick apart the detail, assuage concerns and make operational decisions that staff are comfortable with. We haven’t finalised everything yet, due to the complex nature of the issue and that we are quite a way off from giving a firm date on reopening the office, but we will, and our staff will be notified at every step of the way.

It’s clear we need to ensure that we have the flexibility in our plans to change and adapt to the wider world events. What is good today may be perceived to be inferior tomorrow.

This is unlike any other change management process or project anyone has ever been involved in. So from that perspective alone, getting buy-in is now essential!

Failure in Trust

Our own survey has revealed that for a significant number of the team a more flexible working pattern with part-office and part-home work would provide the best solution as indeed is the flexibility around the times people work.

We need to ensure that we communicate the plans, policies and processes clearly and early but not overload the message. There is a danger that too much communication will have a diminishing return effect and eventually, the messages are ignored.

We are lucky in that we have a single location in the South East of the United Kingdom and many of our staff can walk to work, but where you have multiple locations where commuting via public transport is the norm this adds more complexities.

Different trade sectors and workplaces will have more complex challenges and risks. With good communication, flexibility and transparent consultation, together with expert advice, you will be able to develop a plan that works for you.

Looking to improve your safety communication at this time?

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  • Neil Williams

    Really interesting article Andy, how many companies will take a radical approach, and how many go back to the way they worked before. I am hoping many companies will step back and look afresh at what has worked well and how they can adapt their approach going forward. From my coaching experience, it seems that many employees have been more effective working from home but they miss the social interaction and the corridor chats, when what could seem insignificant questions can be asked. I am hoping to work with a few companies on this, as opportunities could be missed without an external perspective.

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