HR Challenges if You’re Planning to Return to the Office

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As if the past year hasn’t been challenging enough for HR professionals, many are now involved with the implications of returning to the office. Whether that is from an operational, practical perspective or, indeed, an emotional wellbeing one, there is plenty to consider.

The past year has opened us up to so many different ways of work and, for some employees, being at home has been a blessing. For others, the commute and the home / office divide can’t come quickly enough.

So, what are some of the challenges that may arise?

Employees want to stay at home

Whilst some employees have had to juggle home-schooling and full-time work (or some people simply don’t have a practical space of strong enough WiFi to work successfully), there are many others for whom the past year has been a real eye opener. They can stick a washing on during the day, avoid packed trains on a commute, spend more time with their family or partner. All of these are real perks and many won’t want to give all of that up to return to the 9 to 5. At least, perhaps not full time. Many candidates are now expressing interest in remote / flexible / hybrid working options in order to maintain that work / life balance longer term.

Employees are scared to go back to the office

It’s safe to say that the past year has put the fear in many of us when it comes to germs, being around other people and staying indoors. So, to swing the pendulum back to a busy commute and a full office might really trigger some of your employees with mental health issues. Some might find it really stressful to attempt to get on public transport and spend a full working day with other people when they haven’t had to do it in so long. Rushing back into the full on 9 to 5 may also trigger burnout in some. So, it is imperative to identify those employees who will need that extra bit of support in order to adjust back to office life – even if it means they stay at home for longer.

Balancing the wants of your employees with safety standards

Maybe you work in an office where everyone is really keen to get back to their desks. But how can you do that if there isn’t enough space to have everyone in safely? You may have to think about implementing a rota system for employees; a one way system in the office; blocking off desks or social areas; switching to wireless printing; asking everyone to bring in their own utensils for lunch. The list is endless when it comes to things we would have previously taken for granted such as shared spaces and making a cuppa in the kitchen. There is a lot to consider when it comes to balancing the eagerness of employees to be back with the government issues safety guidelines and advice.

Sensitivity to other colleagues

There may well be some employees who have had to physically be in work this entire time so it’s important to consider their feelings when looking to bring back the wider business. Are they burned out? Are they stressed or anxious about more people being in? Do they need support? It’s definitely worth having the conversation so that you can identify these needs. It’s perhaps also wise that – where there have been some employees at home and others in the workplace – you advise those who are coming back into work to steer away from comments about how stressful the commute was or how tired they are now.

No jab, no job?

Many people have expressed concerns that – if they do not get a Covid vaccination, for whatever reason – they will be out of a job. There is still a lot of debate surrounding this. Since the government can only encourage people to get vaccinated, surely an employer can’t force you? Well, from a health and safety perspective, you may well be able to remain employed but unable to enter the workspace, since you could potentially pose a risk to any immunocompromised colleagues. This is a legal area that is fraught with difficulties and loopholes, depending on the employer and the sector.

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