Getting employees back to the office – what can you do?

Work from home guidance has been removed and government advice is that people should talk to their employers to agree arrangements to return to the office.

Although employers might relish the idea of having staff back in, there will no doubt be some employees that aren’t keen on giving up their work from home lifestyle. They might have genuine anxieties about commuting, especially if they are reliant on public transport. Or perhaps they assumed this would last forever, and have moved out of the city or adopted a lockdown puppy.

Phase it in

It is important for employers to think commercially. Finding good new staff is hard and if your team is good, you will want to keep them. Phasing your employee’s return back to the office can be a good way of keeping them happy.

Ways to phase in:

  • Staggering the staff you are bringing in to the office. Asking staff to come in to the office three or four days a week and allowing them to work from home for the remaining days can ensure a good balance is kept.
  • Setting clear days and specifying who is to come to the office and when can avoid any fears of the office being overcrowded.
  • Phase your staff back in teams. It is important for team members to be able to work together, and there’s no better place for this to happen then in the office. Have nominated days where certain teams work from the office and other teams work from home.

It is vital to be clear and concise in order to avoid confusion. Clearly state when employees can work from home and when they are to be in the office.

My employee has moved far away from the office.

Lockdown saw a mass migration away from London to the countryside and areas where employees found more space. They might have even bought a lockdown puppy that they love spending time with. For these employees the idea of the daily commute back to the city is not appealing.

What can you do?

Demonstrate why the employee needs to be back in the office. Perhaps they are a senior member of staff who is needed back to manage a team and pass on their years of experience and industry knowledge. Or they might be a junior member of the team who need to be in the office to learn from the senior team members. Employees might believe that because they have worked from home for two years they can continue to do so. If this is not the case, you should make this clear.

Your company might rely on customers and clients coming to your place of business for meetings and to conduct business. This could be a valid reason to bring your staff back to the office. The days of Teams and Zoom meetings are ending, and although your staff might have enjoyed being able to simply throw a shirt on for a meeting, many clients value a face to face meeting.

Underperformance

Employers will be familiar with the difficulties of managing staff whilst they work from home.

According to the numbers from latest Office for National Statistics report productivity levels per worker are still down on pre-pandemic figures. Therefore, asking an employee to return to the office based on performance reasons can be a valid point.

If an employee refuses than the next steps may be to look to a performance review or performance improvement plan. The performance improvement plan can stipulate that the employee works from the office to benefit from working closely with other members of the team.

Redundancy

If staff refuse to return to the workplace there may be the possibility that their position becomes redundant. In a redundancy situation you must ensure proper and fair procedure is followed.

If you request staff return to the office and this request is reviewed than this should be recorded as a disciplinary matter. If further performance reviews and disciplinary measures are taken which illustrate the position has become redundant than a redundancy agreement will be the next step forward.

We have advised on countless redundancy situations and settlement agreements. Our expert lawyers can assist you.

What if my staff are scared to travel?

The thought of getting back on busy public transport to return to work may leave some staff uncomfortable and unwilling to return to the office. COVID can still be a worry for some staff who may have elderly or medically vulnerable friends and family despite the government lifting restrictions.

The government has published guidance on using public transport. The advice suggests that public transport users should avoid peak travel times. If an employee requests to amend their usual working hours to allow them to travel at off peak times it would be advisable for employers to accommodate these requests.

Get in touch with our employment solicitors in London – we are always happy to discuss any problems or concerns. Call our Employment Law Helpline on 0207 438 1060.

 

Alex Kennedy

I know that when the noise dies down there is a solution to be found. I set about that task as quickly as possible.

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