Preparing for what could lie ahead this winter for businesses -our top 5 tips

It may only be the 27th of September but with the change in weather today it’s certainly got me thinking about making plans for my clients and businesses this autumn/winter.  In the media over recent weeks, we’ve seen the government starting to announce their winter plan and the potential discussions around ‘worst-case scenarios’ for businesses, it’s troubling for employers to know what may happen and what’s around the corner.

A picture containing text, person

Description automatically generated

Specifically, the government outlined two plans-Plan A and Plan B. Plan A focuses on the vaccination programme which will continue and will extend to booster vaccinations, offering vaccinations to 12-15-year-olds (which has commenced) and the continuation of test, trace, and isolation. Something that we have all become accustomed to these last 18 months for better or worse. 

Plan B then looks at the potential for overwhelming in the NHS and the possible return to mandatory mask-wearing enforced working from home for businesses and employees and adjustments to travel (now changed to the Green and Red List only-with the removal of the Amber list).

Now, this blog isn’t about government guidance or updates as you can find all of there elsewhere on a reputable source. This is about what sort of plans businesses need to be making ahead of the next few months – which in all honesty, is very challenging given that it’s a predictions game and no one really knows.  So, what’s my advice to businesses? Quite simply- be prepared. Dependent on your sector and your type of work, you will need to have different plans in place, but if we start with organisations where traditionally pre-pandemic you would have had an office hub and employee working largely from that office space, with let’s hope a good mix of flexible working arrangements in place too. Here are my top tips:

  1. Make a plan and communicate it to your workforce as soon as possible – Sitting down with the board or seniormanagers and making a plan for the ‘what if’s’ feels basic, but consider what will be important to employees.  Consider if government guidance changes-how will you react, do you have everything in place to work from home again foreveryone? Were there learnings from last time? Are there critical teams that will be permitted and should be in the office? Thinking about this now, having it ready and organising communications will put you ahead and prepared.
  2. Communication, Communication, Communication – I cannot say it enough, but communication escalation is key. Once you have a plan (which we know may change) consider how and when you are going to communicate it. Will you brief managers, will your CEO write or perhaps can you record a video now ready to go out? Thinking about how this will personally affect people will be critical. If you have an intranet, also think about what information you can share onthere too.
  3. Financial preparation – Probably one of the hardest to predict, but the very big ‘what if’ is around the continuation or reintroducing of the Furlough Scheme which draws to a close soon. Will you have the financial preparations in place if you have to close again? Do you know how many months or days you are away from taking action? If you have to consider redundancies, are you ready to be agile enough as a business to do this? Having that sort of plan in place, business continuity and Disaster Recovery not just for systems but your business will again place you in readiness. It isn’t a pleasant topic but it is a realistic one for some sectors this winter to be aware of.
  4. Employee Wellbeing – The winter months are always tough, the lockdowns this year up until Easter generally felt harder, because they were in the winter, the days are shorter, there is a long way until good weather and celebrations perhaps on the horizon.  If you compare to the summer of 2020, everyone agrees that it just felt different. Scary yes, but summer days can bring more hope than a cloudy one sometimes and we all had a level of fatigue by January 2021 that we had perhaps never experienced. Considering employee wellbeing is critical this time around, learn from your mistakes, prepare for what you can do both in celebration of Plan A and all being well and Plan B and perhaps a new plan in place. Consider alternatives to perhaps Christmas parties and instead invest in some great treats for your employees and their families this winter. I’ve just heard of a company that took their entire £15K Christmas budget and instead gifted it to employees with a Christmas hamper of their choice or a day out with the family. Now that’s a sizeable budget, but even if you don’t have that sort of money, consider what else you can do, how can you engage with your workforce nearer to Christmas.
  5. Finally – Health & Safety – I can’t not mention it I’m afraid, but do keep on top of government advice around isolation and testing, vaccination guidance and really think about what impact vaccinations and indeed isolation or absence could have on your workforce.  There are some test cases at the moment with employers enforcing that their teams have vaccinations and I think we are going to see more of these over the coming weeks and months. It’s a controversial topic at the moment and one which employers do need to think about ahead of the winter months. Focus on fact, education and reliable sources.  Be very aware of personal choice as well and categories of workers that perhaps maynot be able to have a vaccination, not through choice.  Line managers should be prepared in how to handle requests aswell.

So those are my top five tips this winter for businesses, there are so many more areas to think about but if you tackle these and nothing else, you will put yourself in a really good position and your workforce will hopefully thank you for that. In all of my years in HR, I’ve never found that employees dislike communication and being prepared, in fact, they usually thrive on good communication and feel empowered by their employer being prepared and being open about discussions. None of us have been through this before, so it’s a fine balance, but together we can walk the walk together and support each other. The last 18 months produced some landmark decisions, some steps in the right direction when it comes to flexible working and hybrid working, but it’s just the start of the journey. 

For more information and support with business planning, get in touch today at laura.walker@freshsolutionshr.co.uk or on 07971 881448. 

Read More

How to focus on the people aspects of a COVID workplace return (Guest blog by Sarah Haselwood)

This month I am delighted to welcome my first guest blog from the wonderful Sarah.  Sarah is a Freelance Writer who I met virtually during the Covid-19 lockdown through the wonderful Dan at RHNetworking in Surrey. We spoke on the phone and Sarah, who has a background in HR before her copywriting days, suggested writing a blog for me. She wrote so beautifully, I had to feature it this month. I hope that you enjoy it!

“As employers continue to plan for their workforce to return to the office after lockdown, there are many practical factors to consider. However, employers mustn’t ignore the people aspects of a COVID workplace return. Employees will have experienced several work changes and challenges during the lockdown, and employees must be considered on an individual basis when managers are consulting about a COVID workplace return. There are some specific ways in which employers and managers can approach their people to ensure a fair and consistent discussion. Communication really is essential.

A COVID workplace return consultation

Pre COVID-19 only 30% of the UK workforce worked from home. Therefore, the lockdown has changed the way managers communicate and lead their people and a return to work will create further challenges. Managers must ensure that they treat all their teams as individuals and consult with each person separately about their potential COVID workplace return. There must be a level of sensitivity for each person’s situation as some employees will have tackled homeschooling, furloughing, financial or mental health challenges.

Furloughed employees

During the lockdown, furlough has become a word we’re all familiar with. Managers must be aware of the potential impact of furloughing on an employee and treat each furloughed employee with sensitivity. Employees who have been furloughed may find it difficult to adapt to being back at work or may feel demotivated or devalued. Managers must communicate with their furloughed employees regarding their transition back to work and work together to make it as smooth a transition as possible.

Parents and childcare

Many parents will have been without schools or childcare during the lockdown, and this may continue for some time. The flexible furlough scheme is effective from 1 July until 31 October 2020 and will allow employers and employees to agree to flexible working mutually. For example, if agreed, an employee could work on the days their child’s school is open and be furloughed for the days it is not. There are caveats to this, but the scheme may offer the flexibility that parents will undoubtedly require in the coming months, although it is not in any way confined to parents.

Consider mental health

The impact of lockdown will affect individuals in different ways, but we have to be mindful to ensure that we look after employees and their mental health. A recent poll by Linkedin and the Mental Health Foundation found that over half of UK workers working from home during lockdown were more anxious or stressed and felt their mental health had declined during this time. Some individuals may have health, financial or job security worries; others may be lonely or caring for others. Regardless of the reason, COVID-19 will have had an impact on mental health, and we need to be aware of each employee and their needs.

If an employee refuses to return

There may be employees who do not want to return to the workplace. For some, it may be a case of discussing in detail with them the health and safety measures that are in place to protect them and ensuring they have a copy of the updated health and safety or a COVID return to work policy. Once again, a sensitive and individual approach is essential. Managers need to understand concerns and work with the employee to agree on a phased return to work or a continued work from home arrangement.

Consider an Employee Assistance Programme

Employee Assistance Programmes are an excellent way to offer employees support through telephone or video counselling. Such counselling allows individuals to discuss in confidence their mental health, finances, family, work concerns etc. If the company offers a programme, then it should be communicated to all employees so that they all have the option for additional confidential support.

The workforce isn’t going to return to the workplace after lockdown overnight, as there are many people related considerations. The workplace will likely change, and the COVID return will be gradual. Employers will need to be open to individual needs and factor in different work patterns which may include a phased return and continued remote working. Essentially managers need to ensure a reinduction for all employees to facilitate an effective return to the workplace as the same approach cannot be applied to all employees.”

Read More

Job Retention Scheme – FAQ for Employers

Over the last few weeks, I have been part of some amazing HR Community discussions all around the topic of Covid 19 and how all of this works when it comes to employees and employer advice. I’ve been working on various documents and I, first of all, apologise that I haven’t been able to get them all up and on the website and BLOG. It has been a busy few weeks, hasn’t it!

Today I am pleased to start sharing these and the very first is the Job Retention guide for Employers. Take a look at the latest version and contact me at laurawalker@freshsolutionshr.co.uk for more information.

Take a look at the document on the new ‘Covid 19’ page

Read More