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How to prepare for people coming back into the workplace

As the lockdown restrictions begin to be eased across the UK, more workers are being asked to return to the workplace and many of us are thinking beyond the immediate crisis and looking to the long term impact on our people and operations.

This is a unique time for employers to really affect change, build resilience in your work force, enhance your organisation’s competitive edge and ensure future proofing to meet the changing nature of the business world, here are my thoughts;

As the lockdown restrictions begin to be eased across the UK, more workers are being asked to return to the workplace and many of us are thinking beyond the immediate crisis and looking to the long term impact on our people and operations.

This is a unique time for employers to really affect change, build resilience in your work force, enhance your organisation’s competitive edge and ensure future proofing to meet the changing nature of the business world, here are my thoughts;

Create a culture where employees are fully engaged and supported
A guiding principle must be how your organisation takes care of its people and safeguards their health and wellbeing. Many people are concerned and anxious about being in workplaces or travelling to workplaces. A recent study of 2000 adults commissioned by Bupa Health Clinics found as many as 65% of people in the UK are anxious about returning to their office.

Also, as I have stated in my previous blogs, employee’s expectations have risen during this time. Employees will want clear communication of how you are going to support their physical and mental health and these will be different depending on those coming back into the workplace or those continuing to work remotely.

This is an opportunity for organisations to “build back better”, radically rethink day to day processes, training needs, new skill sets required and create innovative workplace practices that will improve employee engagement.

Ensure flexible contracts, back to work arrangements that provide a good work-life balance
One of the proposed measures being talked about for allowing employees to safely return to their work place is to introduce a staggered return with flexible shifts and hours.  This will reduce the large numbers of people travelling at peak times and therefore the risk of infection.  Look at flexible contracts, rota systems and ensure these are centred around employee feedback and opinions to enable a good work-life balance, many will have become used to this during lock down and working from home and will appreciate you, as an organisation, have considered this for them.

Flexible working can be offered through something as simple as allowing staff to shift their working day by a few hours, either by coming in early and finishing early, or vice versa. Some staff may even prefer to work from home at the weekend rather than a weekday. Expectations and guidelines around this can be outlined in employee contracts.

The winners will be those who managed a phased return and managed remote and back to work place scenarios that address employee’s health and safety, wellbeing and work-life balance concerns.

Different skill sets and roles
Adapting employees’ skills and roles to the post-pandemic ways of working will be critical to building operating-model resilience. Even before the current crisis, changing technologies and new ways of working were disrupting jobs and the skills employees need to do them. In 2017, the McKinsey Global Institute estimated that as many as 375 million workers—or 14 percent of the global workforce—would have to switch occupations or acquire new skills by 2030 because of automation and artificial intelligence. In a recent McKinsey Global Survey, 87 percent of executives said they were experiencing skill gaps in the workforce or expected them within a few years. But less than half of respondents had a clear sense of how to address the problem.

The pandemic has made this question more urgent. Organisations must work to find out how they can adapt to rapidly changing conditions, and match those workers to new roles and activities. This dynamic is about more than remote working—or the role of automation and AI. It’s about how leaders can reskill and upskill the workforce to deliver new business models post COVID-19.

Using technology to support your work force
We are all aware of the additional costs involved in getting people back to work and technology can be used very efficiently and cost effectively to support your work force. This can be achieved through basic means, such as email, VC or via an instant messaging app or platform. Some companies may also choose to use project management software which also makes communication more effective.  

At TTEC we have developed a bot using our own technology called “Louie” which is an intelligent virtual assistant. Louie monitors employee’s well-being by asking daily questions and is also able to answer TTEC-specific questions about employee safety, site operations, benefits and more, helping with first call resolution.

A bot can also help with onboarding and training as it manages the employee’s journey and is available 24/7.   It also can gather information and respond to queries throughout. It can also bring a new hire through the IT onboarding process, requesting their preferred device, setting up their email and other accounts, and answering queries along the way.

Another use is helping organisations to reiterate their core company values while also providing a platform for staff to nominate their colleagues for employee of the month or other similar work recognition programmes.  You can quickly reinforce specific behaviours you want to encourage and ask a series of questions that identifies employee’s needs.

Build Back Better
I will leave you with a final quote from Andrew Hewitt, Forrester analyst and co-author of a new report re post COVID-19;  “What I tend to say to business executives is that if you mess this up now, it’s going to have long-term implications in terms of your ability to attract and retain talent. People tend to remember negative things, and they won’t forget. This will stick out as a pivotal moment for organisations.”

The stakes are high!

Joanne Regan-Iles, Executive HR Director EMEA – TTEC

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