COVID-19 has thrown up a whole plethora of challenges that businesses were not used to handling. As a result, businesses have had to adapt to new working arrangements to stay in operation, with many employers allowing staff to work from home.
When COVID-19 measures are eased and businesses are allowed to do so, you and your team will return to the office. However, in doing so, there are a number of steps you should take to ensure the health, safety and welfare of your employees. A phased return to work is one of those steps.
What is a phased return to work?
A phased return to work entails a temporary adjustment to working schedules after a period away from the office. For instance, if it regards a sickness absence, you may adjust an employee’s normal hours of work to facilitate their return to work following a period of sickness absence.
In the case of COVID-19, phasing employees back in small numbers may be your best option. It will help you when complying with distancing measures and also reduce the stress of everybody returning at once.
Before you begin to phase employees back in, you’ll have to identify which employees are most essential to have back in the workplace. Typically, essential employees would be managers or those who perform critical functions. Essential employees may vary from business to business, so it’s best to decide this yourself.
What’s a typical phased return timeframe?
Leaving a two-week gap between each cohort of returning employees should allow you to manage the return to work. Furthermore, that gap will afford you the time to identify any issues that pop up before all employers return.
The COVID-19 situation is exceptional. There will be further factors to consider when you reopen, including how you manage high-risk employees.
You’ll have to carefully consider employees who are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and employees with underlying medical conditions. Their return to the workplace should only be confirmed when it's 100% safe for them to do so.
Employees returning to the workplace may also suffer from increased anxiety or stress associated with the return to work, which is understandable. Offering support (through an EAP if you have one), and engaging in discussions with individual employees about how to address their concerns may be necessary.
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