Despite lockdown restrictions being eased and shops re-opening, the guidance is that anyone who can work from home should continue to do so.

Whether they are at home or returning to the workplace, it’s important for employers and managers to remain mindful of the challenges that staff may be facing. People may be missing the interaction with their colleagues while working at home, or feel anxious about social distancing in the workplace. Here are some tips from our team on supporting staff wellbeing at this time.

Share your plans

Sharing your plans on how the business is going to safeguard employees’ health, and how your team can protect themselves when back in their old work environment, will help ease the concerns of employees who are worried about contracting the virus.

It’s best to consistently communicate what you know to your team, including any changes to their working arrangements as this will ease employee anxieties. Staff should be given a reasonable period of notice for when they will be expected to return to ‘normal’ work conditions and when furloughed employees should be back on full-pay. The more notice you give, the less you are adding to a list of worries.

Don’t forget physical wellbeing

Working at home can take its toll physically as well as mentally. Employers have a legal duty to protect the health and safety of all their employees in the workplace – even if that workplace is at home. If you haven’t already, you should help to minimise problems such as back pain and repetitive strain injury by making sure everybody who is working remotely has a completed a health and safety workplace self-assessment to address any issues.  It may be a simple tip but encouraging staff to take regular breaks and keep as active as possible will help prevent any physical problems.

Embrace flexible working

Even after lockdown has ended you might be thinking about introducing home or flexible working. This homeworking period has been a trial for many businesses, and some may have found this to be a more effective way of working. Going back to work, people may not feel comfortable going in five days a week or have childcare obligations. You should support flexible working and not expect too much from employees straight away. Our Homeworking: HR Essentials toolkit covers all you need to know about managing flexible working requests.

Signpost support

Make sure your team know of the support the business offers and that it is available to them whether they are at home or in the workplace.  Be mindful that certain individuals may be more effected by everything going on right now, so if you have an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) or Wellness Action Plans, continue to use them and make sure everyone knows where to find useful resources or feels confident to ask for them. You might think about offering webinars on mindfulness or training sessions to help line managers in supporting their teams.

Adjust working conditions

For a number of businesses, it may be that some employees have been directly impacted by the coronavirus. Even if they feel well, it may take some time to be fully recovered so their ability to fulfil full-time work commitments could be affected.

These employees may require additional support in the return to work or need to work from home. As an employer you should carry out a health assessment before they return to work to make sure workplace adjustments are made. Consider adjusting the type of work required, especially if their role involves manual labour, or adopting a phased return to work, on reduced hours or days per week.

Maintain a positive environment

Checking in with your team and having group meetings is critical to ensure teams are connecting and supporting each other while remote working. Don’t make every chat about work – taking time out for a team activity such as a quiz will help reduce stress and allow employees to have the social interaction they get in the workplace. Also use group meetings to share feedback that is encouraging and supportive and pay special attention to giving praise to colleagues who are doing great work – this will really help boost morale in a difficult period.

Before you can offer effective support, you need to understand the challenges facing your team while working from home and returning to the workplace. Communication is the most important tool in achieving this and helping employees feel well informed and at ease.

For businesses which are continuing to work remotely, our Homeworking: HR Essentials toolkit provides easy to use guidance and resources. Find full details here. If you’d like some support with this or the return to work process, please contact our team.