Friday January 22, 2022, saw the announcement by Government of an end to most of the restrictions put in place because of the necessary public health measures responding to the pandemic.
The move by Government to withdraw the majority of restrictions will come as welcomed news and signals a return to normalcy, long anticipated by the majority of people.
As of today Monday, January 24, 2022, a return to physical attendance in the workplace can commence which means that Employers must now decide how this will work in practice appropriate to their sector.
Communication with Employees is important to ensure a phased return to the workplace is successful and this includes communicating the adherence requirements to any new/ revised policies and procedures, such as sick leave policies/ procedures. It is also important if there are any temporary changes to work patterns to accommodate a safe return. Engaging with your Employees to understand any concerns or misgivings on returning to the workplace is essential to gaining buy-in for the return itself.
Health & Safety
Health & Safety must remain an integral part of any plans to return to the workplace. The Work Safely Protocols remain in place albeit the requirement for physical distancing has since been removed with the Government’s announcement. Ensuring that the workplace still adheres to the protective measures as laid out in the Protocols is essential. As a business Employers should ensure that their Covid Response Plan and Suspected Case Response Plan remain in place. Updated Risk Assessments and Safety Statements must reflect any changes to the work environment in particular where Employee presence in the workplace is set to increase. Public health advice on symptoms and isolation periods must continue to be followed in adherence to medical advice.
Notwithstanding the importance of health and safety and communication, the question now for most organisations is, how much of a role flexible working arrangements will have in the return to the workplace and what the right mix of remote and office-based working is required for the success of the business?
We know remote working has worked, we know Employees like the flexibility it offers and it’s a contributing factor to a better work life balance. But it does have potential downsides; less collaboration negatively impacts innovation, Employees can feel isolated, performance management can be more complicated, which in turn can lead to issues if not conducted in line with correct procedure and legislation. The Government’s National Remote Work Strategy means that plans for legislation on the right to request remote working are underway but until we have a clearer
picture on what the means for Employers and Employees alike, businesses must decide how best to
incorporate, or not, remote/ blended working in practice.
Flexible or Blended Work Models
Employers need to carefully consider what work model aligns most effectively with their business
strategy and objectives, and if either remote or blended working is suitable for their business.
However, a longer-term view needs to be taken – a decision to simply return to the office just because
you can, may not necessarily be the right one, particularly in light of strategic priorities within the
business. Employee retention remains a top priority for most businesses and decisions on the type of
working model may inform retention strategies, so making informed decisions will play a vital role in
determining what is best for their business.
Considerations for Employers
Carefully assess the suitability of the roles that you are considering for blended working and clearly
outline the rational for your decision-making; this will help avoid any issues or accusations of
discrimination at a later date.
Articulate your expectations relating to blended working, making it clear the days/ times you expect
Employees to be in the workplace or available to carry out work.
Outline what costs, if any, you are willing to cover outside of the workplace; heating, electricity,
broadband, etc. And, be clear on what equipment you are willing to supply the Employee with while
working remotely – also being cognisant of your responsibilities under the appropriate health & safety
Ensure policies relating to performance management, grievance, conflict & dispute are updated
accordingly and ensure the procedures that are in place reflect these changes and impact of hybrid
Understand where your Employee will be working from when outside the workplace; will they be
outside the jurisdiction and if so, what are the tax implications?
And, agree who is responsible for insurance costs if working remotely from home.
While there is much to consider for Employers and organisations when deciding to implement blended
or flexible working, the benefits can add real value in terms of the Employer-Employee relationship
and increased productivity and profitability. Removal of restrictions mean that Employers have a real
opportunity to set the new standard for ways of working both now and into the future and bringing
your Employees on that journey is now more important than ever.
Expert advice & support is available
At Adare Human Resource Management, we have the expertise and experience to support you in
preparing your Covid-19 Response Plan as well providing Health & Safety Training, Updated Checklists
and providing you with all additional supports required to help you reopen your business.