Back to the future: Planning to return to work in a new era

Employment & Skills | Financial Services | Reports | Sponsored
John Clarke – Wesleyan Bank

The last few months will have taught you much about yourself, your business and staff. Now is the time to reflect and use what you have learned, to facilitate the processes needed to help you through recovery. This should involve reviewing business plans, understanding how to adapt to the ‘new normal’ and managing the re-entry into the workplace for your employees.

This article looks at the key issues to consider for businesses returning to work: How to redefine what you do and the practical steps you need to take to get back to what you do best.

Moving forward to success

Matt Dunham of Dunham Dean Advisory and former council member of R3, The Association of Business Recovery Professionals, works with businesses adapting to change. He believes that firms should not be afraid to adapt their strategic model to flourish within the ‘new’ environment.

He comments: “The winners will be those who come out thinking ‘how can I make the most of these challenges for my customers, staff and the business’, while you risk being left behind by thinking ‘Let’s get back to doing what we did before’.”

Dunham recommends asking key questions, such as:

  • What does your product or service do for your customers?
  • What’s changed about their needs?
  • What’s changed in the way customers purchase from you?
  • How did you adapt during lockdown and what stands out?
  • Did you develop an online model and can that continue to work?
  • Has the relationship with existing customers become closer, as you continued to meet their needs?
  • Were new customers attracted and what do you need to do to keep them?
  • Did you find certain skills were lacking within the team?
  • Is there a need for some staff training?

Use these questions to revisit your business plan. The answers will help to create the vision and ambition for change.

Redefining your business

As you move the business forward, there are several key areas which impact on your plan:

Suppliers

  • Review your contract’s terms and conditions. Do they need to be amended to meet the needs of your new plan?
  • Consider a supplier-led Plan B, investigating potential alternative suppliers as a way to protect your business and bring cost savings.
  • Start an open dialogue with them, to establish whether they have staffing issues or raw material supply problems which could cause delays and impact you and your customers.

Processes and systems

Review your processes and systems to consider what changes could make you more operationally and financially efficient?

  • Being adaptable has been the pre-requisite of operating in the pandemic. How can that mindset be used going forward?
  • Ask those who worked through the lockdown what they have done differently and whether it works better. Review their response and see if it has a place in the business.
  • Consult customers – what do they think? Are the new ways of working what they anticipated or need?
  • If changes are made, always check they are delivering the expected results – consider undertaking a ‘mystery shopper’ test.

The market

  • The market has changed. Understand what has changed and how your plans match the new expectations.
  • Communicate with customers. Explain that you are open for business, communicate any new plans to give them confidence and reassurance.
  • Ask for feedback about your customers’ experiences of working with you during the lockdown, what worked and what did not.
  • Find out how their needs have changed and highlight that you can accommodate those. Above all, remind them about your ‘USPs’ and the added value you offer.
  • Update your marketing strategy and think about how you can use PR and social media channels to tell your story to your target markets.

Considerations when opening

Depending on your sector, you may have had some employees in the workplace during lockdown with others working from home, while some may have been furloughed. The easing of lockdown means that, where necessary, you can bring staff back to the workplace.

This must be done on a safety-first approach, carrying out risk assessments to address the physical, mental and emotional well-being of employees.

With staff transitioning back into the workplace, among the aspects to consider are:

  • Deep-cleaning before re-opening the office.
  • Operate a clear desk policy to ensure a thorough clean.
  • Limit the number of people in the office at one time.
  • Stagger start and finishing times to avoid crowding.
  • Encourage staff to use private cars, bikes or walk to work to minimise the use of public transport.
  • Move desks and workstations to keep separation of two metres between colleagues and, where necessary, install sneeze screens between team members.
  • Consider installing thermal sensors on the entrances to the premises.
  • Install the necessary protective screens between team members.
  • Establish a one-way system around the office to encourage social distancing.
  • Have rules about where food and drink can be consumed in the workplace.
  • If you are in a multi-tenanted building, speak to the landlord/management company about the arrangements in communal areas.
  • Increase cleaning regimes, especially around kitchen and toilet areas.
  • Introduce sanitising stations in various locations around the office, as well as ensuring a good supply of soap. Where possible, provide paper towels in hand-washing areas to avoid use of hand dryers.
  • Provide PPE, such as gloves and masks, with advice on the correct usage.
  • Restrict the number of visitors coming to the office.

Getting up and running

As part of returning to the workplace, it is important to discuss your plans with employees as well as listening to their concerns.

For those who have continued to work, you may have found that certain employees are more suited to a different role from the one they currently have. If so, have a discussion about whether they would be happy to change. You may also find that some employees may not be able to attend the workplace due to shielding themselves or family members – find out if this is the case.

For those you decide can come off furlough, you need to send a ‘recall letter’ followed by a ‘return to work’ conversation. This should address any concerns, check that they are fit to restart and also offer reassurance that preparations have made the workplace safe to return.

On their first morning back, hold an induction session about the changes and plans for the business going forward, providing feedback from customers and suppliers. This will help them feel part of the business again.

It may be beneficial to appoint an office ‘ambassador’ who is responsible for answering questions or concerns, to ease the transition back into the workplace. Every couple of days, undertake a review with your teams to ensure the new protocols are working.

Continue thinking about your employees’ mental health and well-being. Those who remain furloughed or working from home may find it difficult to feel part of the team. Make it a priority to have at least one conversation or contact call a week to enquire about how they feel.

Planning for the new future

With the right preparations, you will be in the strongest possible position to navigate the ‘new normal’ which exists post-lockdown to get your business up and running quickly.

Wesleyan Bank is here to support you and realises that with the disruptions you have faced that you may need some help.

We have launched ‘back to work’ loans which can be used to spread the cost of the investment you need to make in items like protective screens, sanitising stations and other health and safety equipment, as well as any necessary technology.

Wesleyan Bank acts as a broker and a lender.

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