Head of HR Services Lanes Group
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Four ways HR can manage the transition back to work for the service industry

As the UK service industry gets ready to return to some form of ‘business as usual’, it’s time to look at how we can make our organisations more flexible, responsive and human focused.

21st Apr 2021
Head of HR Services Lanes Group
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Colleagues in the office practicing alternative greeting for safety and protection during COVID-19
iStock/valentinrussanov

After a disruptive year, UK service industry organisations are looking forward to a safe, gradual easing of the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions in the coming months. With one eye on the government’s roadmap, HR leaders and business managers will be planning how they can ensure a smooth transition back into work for their staff.

Covid-19 has acted as a cultural reset, forcing organisations to make overdue changes in the way they approach working from home, flexible hours and other key work processes. 

As with all aspects of the pandemic, this process will not necessarily be simple. No business can afford to simply go ‘back to normal’ in April – instead, they need to think carefully about how to continue keeping their staff safe, and how to keep them happy and motivated during what is still a challenging time for everyone.

Here, we will share some of the HR lessons learned during the pandemic by Lanes Group (the UK’s biggest privately owned specialist drainage contractor), and how we will be applying these learnings to ensure a safe route out of lockdown and beyond.

1. Safety first

Although infection rates are falling and vaccination efforts are proceeding swiftly, nobody should be under any illusions that the threat of Covid-19 has passed. As the latest lockdown eases, your first priority should be to make sure your staff can return to work safely.

Since the pandemic started, Lanes has been using a number of special safety measures to prevent infections from spreading. For example, we have separated our employees into work bubbles to minimise unnecessary mixing, and we have switched to communicating job information via the Teamleaf app to avoid face-to-face meetings and paperwork handovers.

All of this is in addition to the usual social distancing, PPE provision and on-site sanitation methods most businesses have become familiar with during this difficult time – and all of it will continue throughout the early stages of the UK’s latest reopening.

After all, keeping employees safe is only part of the purpose here – crucially, HR professionals need staff to feel safe, and maintaining these precautionary measures is the best way for them to understand that their bosses are still putting their wellbeing ahead of all other considerations.

2. Don’t be too quick to end your pandemic support measures

Throughout the pandemic, government and business leaders alike have recognised the need for exceptional support measures to help people through the worst of it. The government has recognised that this support should not be withdrawn too quickly, and HR leaders would be wise to heed the same lesson.

Some organisations have encouraged employees who feel vulnerable or worried about attending the workplace to work from home, even outside the periods of national lockdown. They have also prioritised those who have been asked to shield for furlough leave, to help them reduce their stress.

Elsewhere, organisations have recognised that many staff are still having to look after or homeschool their children, due to school closures and a lack of nursery services. In these cases, they have supported these employees with flexible working arrangements, and will continue to do so for as long as is needed.

By keeping these support measures in place, staff will be better placed to ease their way back into a more normal routine, knowing that a strong safety net is still protecting them.

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3. Pay close attention to your staff’s mental wellbeing

There are few people whose mental outlook would not be impacted by an entire year of health-related anxieties and social isolation. As your staff return to work, it is important to make sure you are looking out for their mental wellbeing, as well as their physical health.

This has always been a key priority for us, as exemplified by our award-winning mental health app. Using this app, employees provide us with daily updates on their overall wellbeing, giving them an option to get in touch with our in-house wellbeing practitioner if they are feeling negative about anything.

In the current climate, every HR department can benefit from doing something similar. Make it clear to your staff that you are available and ready to listen to any problems they may be having, and be prepared to listen if any staff member might benefit from additional support.

After all, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to mental health, so by catering for each employee’s needs on an individual basis and allowing them to readjust at their own pace, you will be able to get the best from everyone.

4. Take heed of any changes that could benefit staff in the long term

In many areas of business, Covid-19 has acted as a cultural reset, forcing organisations to make overdue changes in the way they approach working from home, flexible hours and other key work processes. Even if the pandemic is coming to an end, there is no reason to abandon these lessons.

This starts by asking yourself the right questions about what has changed. Here are just a few examples:

  • Can more of your work be done remotely than you’d believed?
  • Has the introduction of flexible hours hampered productivity, or helped it?
  • Were all the internal meetings you’ve had to cancel during the pandemic actually necessary?
  • Was your in-house mental health support as strong as it should have been?
  • Does your business have the right structure and processes in place to ensure that staff can remain productive even in emergency situations?

It’s important to answer these questions honestly, because these experiences will undoubtedly have altered expectations among staff during this time. Workers who have thrived as a result of the new flexible hours and home working options will not want to see them rolled back, and may be willing to leave their roles to prove it.

As such, taking the time to learn the right HR lessons from the pandemic will benefit the business as much as the staff. By taking the opportunity to rebuild your company as a more flexible, responsive and staff-centred organisation, you will be able to make your workplace a successful and attractive one for years to come, when the pandemic is a distant memory.

Interested in this topic? Read Culture transformation: changing behaviours in the post-pandemic workplace.

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