Training for the new normal
When on Sunday 10th May the Prime Minister signalled the start of a phased return to work, how many businesses were really ready to comply? Even those in key sectors which have operated on a partial or even full staffing level since the lockdown began may not be fully prepared for what is to come.
One thing is certain, the business environment which people are returning to will be very different from that of the past. The free and easy exchange of views around the water cooler, the casual sharing of equipment, the crowded meetings and even the swapping of cakes and other goodies in the restroom will for the moment become mere memories. In their place comes the end of hot desking and a greater respect for personal space.
And that’s not all. BEIS guidance* for those working in offices and contact centres highlights the importance of being mindful of the particular needs of different groups or individuals as well as ensuring that individuals don’t face discrimination because of protected characteristics such as age, sex or disability. In this, the guidance also reminds employers of their responsibilities towards disabled workers and those who are new or expectant mothers.
Whilst equality and antidiscrimination policies should always be part of a strong organisational culture, their importance has been further heightened by the current situation. Although the government has signalled a phased reopening of the economy, at the moment this is within the context of individuals continuing to work from home where they are able to do so. And even when measures ease further there will still be some individuals for whom the recommendation will be to keep working from home.
With this in mind, what should employers be considering as they plan for the easing of lockdown and a return to work? The BEIS guidance covers a number of areas from undertaking initial risk appraisals to social distancing, cleaning practices, and managing visitors to the premises. It also highlights the importance of providing appropriate training to employees so that they know and understand what safety measures to expect when returning to work.
But there are also further areas of training which businesses may wish to consider including:
- Cross training and retraining. In my March article ‘Learning to share’ I highlighted the importance of cross-training in order to provide cover for absent colleagues. With some people returning to work in the office whilst others may have to continue to work from home there may well be the need to review and revise job allocations and retrain staff appropriately. Even without this, the government’s recommendation that working hours be staggered could result in the need for cross-training in order to ensure that key roles are fully covered at all times.
- Equality training. With return to work plans taking account of equality and antidiscrimination policies it is perhaps appropriate to undertake an element of retraining across the workforce in respect of these areas. That will help people to be more tolerant of each other and also to reduce any resentment should employee expectations differ, even within the same department.
- Risk awareness. Your people are your greatest advocates and also most aware of day-to-day working conditions. Providing an element of training in health and safety and risk awareness and then encouraging people to speak up can help to ensure that problem areas are quickly identified; giving you a chance to strengthen personal safety measures as swiftly as possible.
Return to work is not simply going to be a case of snapping back into old practices. The need to stay safe and be aware reaches into every corner of business. But people have shown how they can pull together in a crisis and the provision of additional training will only help them to work more effectively and safely.
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Director of Elemental CoSec, a company secretarial firm. Lawyer. Triathlete.
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