Rob Osborne Profile Pic - BW

Preparing business for a return to the office

By Rob Osborn, Business Continuity Specialist

The impact of the Covid 19 pandemic on business operations has been unprecedented. No one could have predicted the rapid move to home working and the enormous impact the virus has had on business volumes and customer service provision, with some companies having to ramp up operations and others drastically ramp down.

With restrictions gradually easing in the UK and with the furlough scheme expected to end in October. It is essential that businesses, if they haven’t done already, make definitive plans to get their workforce fully operational.

Social distancing and strict hygiene recommendations are likely to remain well into the future, so it’s important to plan how your organisation will make work not just possible but productive, as 2020 moves through its second half.

Returning to full operation – why is your Business Continuity plan critical?

Most businesses were not ready to send all their staff home when the UK’s pandemic response was announced in mid-March. However, with a huge amount of hard work and adaptability, many contact centres and customer service operations managed to keep operational throughout the crisis. There were certainly big challenges and some major brands struggled to cope with demand from their customers. After several weeks of improvements and a lot of late nights for many people, the industry appears to have dealt with the crisis admirably overall.

Getting employees back into the right routines will be the next critical stage of the industry’s response to the Covid 19 pandemic, and now is the time to make sure your organisation is ready to embrace the future.

How will your business be viewed after the pandemic is over?

In PWC’s Global Crisis Survey 2019, 95% of CEOs said that they expected to face a crisis in their working lives: now 100% of them are facing that crisis. Most crises are not preceded by a warning, and the swift spread of coronavirus was no exception.

Your customers, staff and suppliers will judge you based on how well you handle this pandemic. If you do not believe that, look at Wetherspoons, Virgin and JD Sports and the damage that their decisions have made to their reputations in a few short weeks. Poor choices about how to deal with staff, as activities were put on hold, may have far-reaching effects on what happens when things get back up to speed.

The coming weeks are an opportunity to redesign aspects of your operation, not only to react to changes in the business caused by Covid 19, but to improve your business generally. In years of ‘normal’ business, changes have often been incremental and difficult to implement. The radical changes to working practice forced on many businesses by the pandemic have opened up opportunities for companies to make positive long-term changes to their working processes to adapt to ‘new’ ways of working.

What does this mean for your Business Continuity plan?

Many Business Continuity professionals, myself included, love the adage ‘never waste a good crisis’. Your business has probably made errors in handling the current situation. Hopefully, they’ve not had a negative effect, but if this is the case make sure you take away any learnings. Use your new-found insight to build an effective Business Continuity plan for the future. Making sure whatever the next crisis is, your business is fully prepared and has reduced its exposure to risk.

Your Business Continuity plan may not have been appropriate for the type and scale of the crisis caused by this pandemic. For many organisations, Disaster Recovery planning has been limited to flood, fire and failure of data & communications systems. It is important to build a plan which enables you to cope with several different scenarios, some of which will be happening at the same time. For example, relocating everyone to work from home whilst protecting customer data and moving all office systems into the cloud probably had been legislated for by many companies three months ago. Now every business needs to be ready to do that again, with very little notice.

How can we get back to office working?

There are several critical questions to answer before you start to move staff back into the office. Among the most important are:

  • How Covid-secure is the work environment? This includes social distancing measures in the office – welfare facilities including kitchens and toilets, sanitation stations; signage and traffic control measures
  • Deep cleaning – Make sure the workplace not only LOOKS like a Covid-secure space but that it is. A deep clean and regular checks will almost certainly be needed. Remember you have a Duty of Care to your teams
  • Communications – Reminding your staff of their obligations and how you are supporting them, plus reinforcing safety at work will be of utmost importance
  • Staff numbers – What percentage of your teams can you safely and realistically bring back to the office?
  • Personal welfare – Some people may be more productive working from home, others may not be able to return to the office because of health risks or childcare issues. For those who can return to work, how will they get there? Will you provide parking or focus on those who are closer to the office so they can avoid public transport?

Write a Return to Work Policy if you don’t already have one. If you do, check it, and make sure it allows your business to make sensible decisions in a procedural way. Inconsistency may cause further problems down the line, not just in employee relations but potentially in liability for your company. Employees value consistency and a written policy should increase trust and give your managers good guidelines to make fair decisions.

Clearly communicate

Clear communication with your teams is essential. Many peoples’ lives have been turned upside down by the effects of this health crisis. It is important that they are valued and kept in the loop about how the easing of lockdown restrictions might affect them and their work. Making communication two-way also gives your staff an opportunity to voice any concerns or to highlight any unusual cases which need to be dealt with. Solve problems now to avoid bigger problems later.

Are you ready?

I hope that your business is well prepared for this next crucial phase of the country’s Covid response. If you are unsure about how robust your Business Continuity plans are, or if you need a structured approach to your Return to Work Planning, we can help, simply complete our ‘get in touch’ form and we will be in contact shortly after.