Post-lockdown | Questions staff should ask HR before going back to the office

Questions staff should ask HR before going back to the office

For several months, a large portion of employees have either been working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic or have been on the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) due to a lack of work.

After some time out of a physical office environment – and with an imminent return to work on the cards for many – some employees may be feeling anxious about returning to work.

Several studies have illustrated these concerns. For example, recent research from Bupa Health Clinics found that 65% of UK employees feel anxious about the prospect of returning to work.

The most common concern was around the implementation of social distancing measures in the office, according to 46% of survey respondents.

Elsewhere, research from Cartridge Save found that a third of UK employees are scared of going back to work.

According to the data, staff aged between 45 and 54-years-old were the most afraid, with some feeling it was too soon.

To calm anxieties, Cary Cooper Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health at the Manchester Business School, previously told HR Grapevine that, prior to returning staff to a physical workspace, HR departments should circulate virtual videos of what that new environment will look like before they come back.

However, it is possible that employees will still be concerned about the new way of working going forwards. So, to help reduce anxieties, Metro recently collated a list of questions that employees should consider asking line managers and HR departments ahead of the return-to-work.

Read on to find out more.

1. Have you carried out a COVID-19 risk assessment?

The health and safety of staff should be a top priority for employers when bringing staff back to a physical workspace. Therefore, ensuring that a risk assessment has taken place and asking employers how they plan to tackle the risks that they found, could be a good place to start.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has published extensive guidance about how to conduct these risk assessments with a view to keep staff as safe as possible.

 2. What measures have been put in place to protect staff?

Following on from the risk assessment, employers should implement changes to ensure health and safety. This could include measures such as alternating shift patterns, a re-design of the office layout and the installation of hand sanitising stations.

Earlier this year, the UK Government released ‘COVID-secure’ guidelines detailing strategies to help employers operate safely. These cover a range of different work environments too. Employees should ask what measures have been put in place.

 3. What about my commute?

For some employees, the commute may be the thing they are most worried about. With statistics from CBRE data showing that more than three million workers commute via train in the UK’s cities alone, braving public transport again is likely to be a concern for many returning workers.

Therefore, if employees do rely on public transport to get into work, it is worth raising this with line managers and HR to see whether homeworking may be the best option for the time being, particularly for those living further away from the office.

Despite the fact that Kate Hindmarsh, Partner and Head of the Employment Team at Langleys Solicitors previously told HR Grapevine that employers aren’t legally responsible for the risks associated with work commutes, “[HR] should be alive to any concerns and engage in a dialogue to seek to deal with those concerns”.

4. What is your stance on remote working going forwards?

Numerous studies have shown an increasing appetite among staff to work from home more frequently. For example, research discovered in the COVID-19 Remote Working Survey conducted by Eskenzi PR and OnePoll found that 91% of the UK working population want to continue working from home. Teiss reported that just nine per cent said that they would want to return to the office full-time.

If employees have experienced a better work-life balance and feel more productive when working at home, now might be the time to suggest the idea of more flexible working arrangements to employers.

 5. What about the support for working parents?

During lockdown, many working parents have experienced the challenges of juggling childcare or home-schooling while working at the same time. Therefore, if working parents are asked to return to work imminently, it is important to find out what adjustments can be made for those with childcare responsibilities.

When nationwide school closures were announced earlier this year, the CIPD’s CEO, Peter Cheese explained that employers should make allowances. He also urged employees to "speak to their line managers and HR teams to understand how they can best balance family and work commitments, especially as this stands to be for a prolonged period of time”.  

While this isn’t an exhaustive list of questions that employees may ask, it could help people functions to prepare for staff queries.

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