“Freedom Day” is bearing down upon us.  From 19th July, barring a late U Turn, the UK Government recommendation will no longer be that people should work from home where possible.

There is no shortage of politicians and business leaders urging people to get back to “normal” (the old ways of working) and back to the office. 

Vaccines appear to be weakening, but not wholly eliminating, the link between Covid, hospitalisation, long term illness and death.  At the same time Covid cases are rising rapidly. 

Freedom Day – Problem or Opportunity?

Your problem is how to call it?  What to do?   Get it wrong and you could put people at unnecessary risk, end up with many of your workforce disaffected and possibly have years of litigation to tidy up.   

Get it right and you can cement further the loyalty of your people and build on engagement and commitment. 

So, here are 9 steps to making sure Freedom Day is an opportunity rather than a problem

  1. When looking at reasons why people should return to the office, be honest.  A bold assertion that “Working in the office makes us more collaborative” may not cut it with people who have spent the last year demonstrating they can work effectively from home.
  2. Recognise that different members of your team have different expectations at the current time. Some cannot wait to get back to work, other will want to come back gradually but with an eye on safety. Some are still very reticent indeed to return yet.  Now is probably not a time for a one size fits all approach. Understand the different needs. 
  3. Don’t pre-suppose that you understand the physical and emotional drivers of your people.  You certainly don’t know what each person has been through during the last year and guessing is dangerous. 
  4. Recognise that even where people do want to come back as soon as possible, they still have safety worries.  A recent Ipsos Mori poll suggested 59% of Britons would be happy for social distancing to be compulsory for the full duration of the pandemic.  
  5. More than ever, it is essential to have a constructive rolling dialogue with staff to understand their fears, needs and expectations.
  6. Consider giving people maximum flexibility.  Let people start to enjoy what the office has to offer, and interactions with colleagues, without taking that as a green light to force them in every day.  Help to build confidence in the nervous.  Helping people to the edge of their comfort zone may have benefits.  Dragging them kicking and screaming way out of it will cause resentment.  
  7. Ensure you do not create a two-tier organisation. Marginalising those coming back more slowly could do lasting damage. 
  8. Consider whether you should return to the ‘old’ normal at all.   Have the ways of working for the last year revealed a ‘new’ norm that has worked well for the organisation and your people?  How necessary is full time office work going forward after Freedom Day?
  9. Seek-out, and enable, candid views every step of the way. Your dialogue with your employees can include: Do they want to come back to work yet? Do they feel safe travelling to and from work yet?  Does the rest of their life, such as caring for children, parents or partners enable them to come back to work and feel safe?  Do they feel safe once in the office environment?

Good luck, or better still good listening and planning, on coming out of Covid from Freedom Day with your teams more committed and stronger than ever.

WorkInConfidence offer a suite of facilities on its digital communications platform that are designed to give employees an easy route to have their say. During times of uncertainty, it’s even more important that companies can offer reassurance and comfort – and keeping the workforce connected and engaged can achieve that. Contact us to find out more about how we can help you to support employees during Covid 19 and beyond. 

Protect: Anonymous Speak Up: A safe and secure way for your people to anonymously raise concerns via phone, tablet, or PC, ensuring you are aware of any workplace issues and can respond quickly and accordingly

Consolidated Case Management: A secure online place to record, track, update, and report on all speaking up matters, whether raised through WorkInConfidence or directly.

Surveys: Easily set up, run and interpret surveys on engagement, respect, wellness or other topics to ensure you always understand your people, their needs and motivations.

Discussion Boards: Demonstrate your commitment to collaboration with discussion boards to accelerate employee engagement and gain greater insights – anonymous if required.