The imposition of lockdown changed the way we work – but how do we change it back? Best Employers explain the benefits of a smarter, people-led approach.

The coronavirus lockdown has officially been in force since March 23, though some businesses had begun remote working ahead of it. Now the easing of lockdown from June 1, and with the furlough scheme winding down, means businesses are entering a new stage.

Recruitment specialists Pure is typical of the businesses planning for a recovery in its market. “We’re looking at when and how we can start to bring people back from furlough,” says executive director Lynn Walters. “We’re looking at our people-engagement, our use of technology and our use of property as they’re all going to be different to how they were before Covid-19.”

People engagement

Being furloughed will have affected staff in different ways: some will have loved it, others can’t wait to get back to work. “Some may have been feeling anxiety about being furloughed: why were they chosen? Will they feel capable and confident when they go back? It’s important to support people as they return,” says Lynn.

They will need time to get back into the swing of their roles. They’ll also have to get up to speed with the way the business operates and how projects and relationships have evolved. Employers will have a lot to communicate. “This needs to be done in a sensitive and supportive way,” says Lynn. “Allow plenty of time for Q&As.”

Some of Pure’s clients are using a buddy system to help get returning staff up to speed. Other institutions are setting up virtual workrooms, where staff are online alongside their colleagues all the time. Both approaches aim to make it easy for the returning staff to reintegrate into the business after furlough.

Use of technology

The government guidelines are still that people should be working from home if they can, so most people coming off furlough will work remotely. Many businesses have seen productivity rise as the flexibility of working from home allows people to find patterns of working that suit them. However, returning staff will need time to master the technology involved in remote working and to find the pattern that makes them most productive.

While flexibility is one of the benefits of the new, remote way of working and it may aid returning staff, it’s also worth considering that some organisations are keen to return to set hours to stop work encroaching on family life: there’s a fine line between working flexibly and just working too much.

The Best Employers approach is to have a dialogue with staff. That’s especially important when supporting furloughed employees trying to find the right balance as they enter the flexible, remote workplace.

Use of property

The timing of when to return to the office will vary for every business – some are starting now, others are still waiting. “As we’ve gone through lockdown, it seems more people are wanting to return to the office,” says Will Self, CEO of financial services giant Curtis Banks. “We’re at the point now where we can start a return for those who want it.”

About half the firms’ 620 staff are based in Ipswich. They’re divided into three teams that will return to the office for a week at a time, so only about 10pc of the staff will be in at once. This allows space for social distancing, though Curtis Banks also altered the internal layout to ensure those in the office wouldn’t end up sitting close together and made changes to communal areas. “We’ve used copious amounts of yellow tape to mark out 2m spaces,” Will explains.

While some people miss the office and others love remote working, most want a mix of the two. “There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution that will work for every employee,” says Lynn Walters of Pure. Flexible working will no longer mean just the hours that people work but also where they do it.

“Our focus is on developing a blended pattern of working. One that will suit our people, that suit the company and will be sustainable,” she concludes. The reintroduction of the furloughed staff and the limited return to central offices does not mark the end of the lockdown, but the transition to a whole new pattern of business life.

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