Many businesses may find that the post-lockdown economic shock has changed their business needs. It may not be viable to re-start the business after lockdown with the same number of staff doing the same jobs as before. Financial constraints may necessitate a re-shaping of your workforce by re-structuring: reducing hours/days of working, introducing shift patterns, job sharing, redeployment and even making some posts redundant.
It may be necessary to ask certain staff to take on more customer facing roles. These could be low risk employees or those who have had confirmed coronavirus and have some natural immunity toward re-infection; bearing in mind that social distancing measures are still in place and rotational teams provide a far more flexible workforce.
To reduce the risk of legal claims, these processes must be handled fairly and within existing legal boundaries - and pro-active communication with your staff to minimise the impact on moral is vital.
Many people will already have been furloughed or taken a reduction in salary (with pro-rata'd hours) to help the business, and for those that need to take on new responsibilities or require a change to their current terms & conditions, it is important that they understand why you are making changes to work practices.
When planning the return to work you should consider that you may need to bring some staff with certain skill sets back from furlough sooner than others. You will need to ensure you have a transparent, objective and documented justification for these decisions in the event they are challenged at a later date. It would also be prudent to give staff notice that they are going to be asked to return from furlough as they may need to arrange childcare etc.
The starting point before any changes can take place is to bring staff back into the workplace, into their original jobs and then discuss and consult with them on the changes you would like to make. Some may be temporary, and others may require a permanent change to their contract.
If you can't bring your staff back to have these conversations, then you must call a staff e-meeting to discuss the proposed changes. Then provide letters to all employees, calling those individuals for one-to-ones to begin an e-consultation process. The rules apply outright.
We anticipate a significant increase in requests for flexible working when the lockdown ends and employers may find it harder than ever to justify rejecting some requests. It is important therefore that employers develop systems that can quantify and measure the outputs and results their staff achieve whether they are working in the office or from home.
This pandemic will undoubtedly change the way we work and for a significant portion of the workforce will promote a better work life balance but finding the synchronicity between business requirements and staff needs may prove a little tricky. And now we can move on to risk assessments...