Furlough. Just over 12 months ago it was a term that very few people would have been aware of but for the past year it is has been a lifeline for businesses – and employees – as organisations navigate the impact of COVID-19.
People will have been placed under very different circumstances over the past year; there will be those who have been furloughed for the duration, some who may have working on a flexible-furlough basis and others who have remained in full employment for the duration.
As many businesses now look to how they transition from this temporary measure to a post-furlough operation, we take you through some of the key considerations when looking to reintegrate employees back into the workplace.
Start the communication around returning to work early to give your team time to prepare and make any necessary arrangements for childcare etc. Make the conversation a two-way process and invite employees to share any concerns they have about returning and what additional support may be required.
Look at what processes you have in place to manage other long-term absences such as parental level or sickness. Consider offering employees a phased return as they adjust to coming back to work – some may have been furloughed for over a year and will need to time to get back up to speed.
Consider how different employees will be feeling. It is likely that you will have a mix of furloughed, flexibly-furloughed and non-furloughed employees, all of whom will have very different experiences and feelings about the past 12 months. Furloughed employees may feel isolated, frustrated to have not been a work and even guilty that colleagues have had to essentially cover for them. Those that have been at work could be resentful that they have had to deal with increased workloads in extremely anxious circumstances. Look at ways you can help everyone understand what the other has been through to ease any potential tensions.
Working remotely, meetings via Zoom and accessing work-based systems in a different way will be second nature to many by now, but for those who are returning to work for the first time, it will be to a very different workplace than the one that they left. Take time to guide those returning through the processes and adjust to a new way of working. Try to think back to those early weeks and don’t assume they will get to grips with everything right way.
It can be easy to lose touch with people - especially if you are not yet returning to the office or workplace – so schedule regular catch-up meetings to check in with returning members of the team and quickly address any concerns or problems.
Define clear goals and expectations for returning employees and identify any skills gaps which need to be addressed. Understand what aspects of their role they may not be able to undertake straightaway and allow a reasonable time for them to adjust and get back up to speed. Consider what training will be needed as either a refresher or in relation to newly implemented systems that have been put in place during their time out of the workplace.
Take some time to run through any key business updates; have people left the business, who is responsible for which areas of the business, have any key clients key or come on board?
If an employee’s return to work coincides with a return to the workplace, are there any adjustments needed around start and finish times, are they reliant upon public transport, what additional safety measures will need to be put in place?
It is possible that there may have been some staffing changes over the past 12 months – how have the team dynamics potentially changed? Has there been any shift in responsibilities and reporting lines, is work being handled by a different person or team now, how will introductions to new team members be handled?
Consider how future lockdowns will be handled and clearly communicate what steps have been put in place to handle staff – or members of their families - needing to isolate.
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