Returning to the workplace safely

BLOG ARTICLE | By The Simplyhealth Team

InsightsHealth & wellbeing > Returning to the workplace safely amidst COVID-19

BLOG ARTICLE | By The Simplyhealth Team 11 December 2020

This year has seen our usual routines and ways of life turned upside down. Many of us have now spent more time working from home during 2020 than we have in the office. But with the picture constantly changing, it’s time for workplaces to start thinking of post-pandemic life and what that means for employees returning to the office.

 

During the height of lockdown, 60% of UK adults were working from home1. Now, this figure stands at 40%2. However safety is still at the forefront of everyone’s minds - so what can be done to ensure a safe return to the office for your employees? We’ve listed below some important points for you to consider:

1. Carry out a coronavirus-focused risk assessment
 

If you’re looking to bring employees back to the workplace, then a risk assessment is crucial to ensure their safe return. Employers will need to identify which circumstances may cause transmission of the virus, think about who could be at risk, and consider how likely it is that someone could be exposed.

 

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provides some useful guidance on how to put together a COVID-19 risk assessment, and what it should include.

 

You’ll need to keep your risk assessment under constant review and follow the latest Government and Public Health England guidance to manage your workplace environment. 

2. Update and share your health and safety policy
 

It’s beneficial to update your health and safety policies when you’re building your risk assessment, as there will likely be some crossover. Taking into account government guidance, there are three key areas that will require some focus:

  • Hygiene: such as undertaking regular deep cleans, providing hand sanitiser throughout the workplace, reducing touch-points on doors/light switches, and asking employees to clean down their workspaces at the end of each day.
  • Social distancing: such as reducing crowds via booking systems for desks and meeting rooms, one way systems, and floor stickers.
  • Mental wellbeing: such as providing safe spaces to talk and offering training for all employees to help them understand and recognise potential mental health impacts.

 

Don’t forget to share your latest policies with your workforce – everyone will play a part in ensuring the office is a safe space to work.

3. Keep employees informed with regular communication and training
 

Just like you are expected to provide a safe place for your employees to work, your staff are responsible for the care of their own health and safety. However, your guidance will be needed to ensure everyone is aware of the appropriate information.

 

Start by putting in place a re-induction process for staff returning to work, whether they’re coming back from furlough or returning to the workplace after working from home. Provide line manager training on the relevant policy changes so that they can provide insight to their teams, and hold return-to-work conversations with staff to discuss what the first day back will look like and any changes in procedures.

 

Be sure to share your revised policy with your workforce directly via email comms, and upload the most recent version to your staff intranet system, if you use one.

4. Reassure your workforce with access to discounted antibody tests
 

Antibody tests can determine if someone has had COVID-19 and developed antibodies which are still present in their body.

 

In a recent survey of UK adults, 62% said they would feel more comfortable returning to work if they were offered an antibody test3. Similarly, 82% of large employers are already considering introducing antibody testing as part of their back-to-work strategy3.

 

Together with Square Health, our GP provider, we’re able to offer Simplyhealth customers an antibody test approved by Public Health England for half the price. Find out how the antibody test works and discover the variety of health and wellbeing benefits our health plan can provide for your employees.

5. Offer mental health and wellbeing support
 

It’s to be expected that your workforce will have mixed feelings about returning to work. Some may be eager to get back to a normal way of working. Others may have concerns about the safety of social distancing and how this could affect theirs and their families’ health.

 

A recent study by TalkOut found that over a third of UK workers reported worse mental health now, compared to before the pandemic4. Additionally, more than two-thirds felt anxious and apprehensive about returning to work.

 

The support you provide is key here. Encourage managers to schedule regular check-ins with their teams, and give employees access to relevant tools and resources to support their mental, financial, and physical wellbeing. Offering external support in the form of an Employee Assistance Programme that provides counselling services can be beneficial to employees needing a safe space to turn to for help and advice.

6. Listen to how your employees are feeling with a ‘Future of Work’ survey
 

In May and September this year, Simplyhealth rolled out a ‘Future of Work’ survey to our workforce. The shift from office-based working to home working affected everyone differently, and we were keen to learn how our employees were finding the current situation and what that may mean for future working.

 

The survey revealed that the majority of our teams are enjoying an improved work-life balance and feel safe at home, with a small number feeling isolated and lonely. 91% said they would like to continue to work from home full or part-time, with only 2% of colleagues wanting to always be in the office.

 

Listening to how our employees are feeling has been really beneficial. It’s helped us to identify things we could act upon in real-time to make working from home easier, such as investing in home office equipment for staff, providing health and wellbeing support via webinars, and introducing social and community activities so we stay connected as colleagues.

 

It’s also helped us to plan for 2021 and beyond, exploring ways to set ourselves up for a different, more flexible way of working, whilst keeping our employees healthy, happy, and safe. 

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