The Corona pandemic has been a difficult time for people all over the world, especially cruel to businesses. Lockdown restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the virus placed most enterprises in sticky situations, forcing most of them to furlough a large portion of their employees, take up huge loans to survive, and some were even forced to close down. The limitation of movement and physical contact also brought about a massive reduction in sales and significant changes in the internal operational processes.
 
Although all departments were affected, the human resource department probably had it the hardest.

Most businesses changed the way they operate

Suddenly, employers had to send workers home, understand and implement self-isolation rules, and ensure compliance with ever-changing furlough legislation, all while trying to steer their business through one of the most challenging times in recent history.
 
To stay operational, most organizations resorted to remote working arrangements, where they made use of the latest networking technology to stay connected and keep things going.
 
Fortunately, the worst is behind us, and dawn may be breaking soon. Things are looking up!
 
With the vaccine rollout already ongoing, plans to lift the lockdown and get things back to normal are underway. Starting early March, the government will begin lifting restrictions on movement, and some major institutions will reopen. This will be followed with subsequent opening of businesses and hopefully, by June, everything will have gone back to normal.
 
Even if this is going to be the case, it will still not be all-smiles for businesses. The pandemic has lasted for more than a year, and adopting back to the way things were may not be as easy as you think. Luckily, we can make predictions of some of the main challenges that business will face, and prepare accordingly for them.
 
First, determine the way forward

For most businesses, employees have been working from home for much of last year. The first thing employers should do is to figure out whether their work practices will go back to normal or whether there will be changes. You may decide to get people back to the workplace, let them continue working from home or go for something in between. Whatever your choice, ensure you consider all the factors carefully if you want a smooth transition and minimum disruptions to your operations.
 
How do you Get your Employees Back to the Workplace?

For some employers, having people working from was only acceptable due to the circumstances, but they would prefer if everyone was at the office in the long term. Some of the reasons for this include allowing for the training and development of the staff members, to foster team collaborations, and to increase monitoring to ensure everyone is doing their part to get things back on track.

Getting people back to the workplace may not be as easy as it seems. While some people will be looking forward to getting back, others will have gotten used to working from home. After all, remote working comes with benefits such as lower costs of living; working in pyjamas from home is understandably cheaper than wearing a crisp suit and taking the commute to work. It is also easier to find a work-life balance as they are now more flexible to organize their time as they please. Some may argue that the lack of distractions from colleagues makes them more productive.

If you need your employees back in the office, below is how you can achieve it while still keep their morale and job satisfaction levels high:
 
Make it a Gradual Process

Transitioning back to the office environment will not be easy, and it will help if you take it slowly. Where possible, consider arranging for a phased return where you could have them working to the office for two or three days a week, gradually increasing the number of days until you are back to your normal schedule. This will also give them time to slowly find a new work-life balance, making the necessary arrangements to help people back at home adjust.
Where it is not possible to have employees back gradually – such as where they share company equipment, you can arrange office meetings and catch up sessions before moving them back completely. While this may seem unnecessary, sharing experiences will make it easier for them to get through the next phase of working together.
 
Give them Enough Notice

Ensure your employee know in advance when you expect them back to the workplace. Most of them will need to make new arrangements at home – such as arranging for child care and therefore require ample time to prepare. Keeping your employee informed will reduce absences and no-shows that could cause chaos in your business.
 
Consider Employee Requests

Without a doubt, you will receive numerous employee requests please for flexible working hours, especially for employees who had grown comfortable working from home. Since everyone has the right to request flexible working hours, ensure you consider all requests carefully before turning them down. Make it clear to your employees what you can or cannot grant and on what basis, and ensure the process is fair to everyone.
 
What do you do if Employees Refuse to Come back to the Workplace?

Understandably, some employees will refuse to return to the workplace and advocate for working from home. If this is the case, remember you have the right to instruct them to return to work, especially if that is what their employment contract dictates. However, this should be done with care as you do not want to deal with a worker’s strike. Listen to their reasons and see if you can reach an agreeable middle-ground. If possible, find external help from HR experts to ensure you do not violate the law.

What do you do if Employees Refuse to Come back to the Workplace?

Even after the lockdown is completely lifted, there will still remain a risk of the virus spreading again. It is therefore advisable that whether going back to the workplace or working from home, employers and employee should all play their part in keeping safe. Some of the considerations that they can make to increase the safety of the workplace include:

  • Employers should follow government guidelines on making the workplace safe such as by making the wearing of facial masks mandatory, encouraging the regular washing of hands and ensuring adequate spacing to avoid congestion.
  • Employers could also make travel arrangements to help their employee avoid busy commuting time on public transport.
  • Employers could also conduct a risk assessment and take the necessary measures to make the workplace as safe as possible.
  • The mental wellbeing of the employees is also an important consideration. Employers should therefore put in place support programs to ensure their employees are guided and supported through the changes.

 The effects of the pandemic will remain with us long after the virus has been defeated. One of the hardest parts will be getting things back to normal, especially for businesses that suffered massive disruptions to their operation. This guide offers some guideline for employers wishing to return their employees to the workplace after being away for so long. By following the suggested steps and keeping the safety consideration in mind, you will ensure your employees return their maximum productivity in the shortest time, enabling you to recover sooner.