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Bringing Your Team Off Furlough

17 Aug 2020
Ewan Anderson

There seems little chance that the transition from a COVID enforced lockdown back to something resembling normality in terms of work is going to be easy. 

There is the obvious danger of the second wave of infection, not to mention the economic fallout in countries around the world in our, now, global marketplace. 

So making any firm decisions about your business, about the re-introduction of staff or the safe-guarding of your workplace is incredibly tricky. 

However, the Government's COVID Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) will come to an end in its current form at the end of October. There isn't any clear guidance around how it will look after this, whether there will be support for affected sectors or whether the support funnel that has been a lifeline for many businesses will simply stop.

As businesses think about the re-introduction of their staff, there are several elements to consider. 

Be Sure 

Firstly, it is incredibly challenging to know what the right decision is for your business, but our economy needs to get back on its feet, and we need people back to work. 

You will know the financial situation of your business and be able to assess your options. So while it is coming to a close, at the moment, until the end of October, you still have the opportunity to allow your furloughed employees to remain part of the scheme. There is now, however, a requirement for your business to contribute to this wage:

  • August - The Government pay 80% of employees salary (up to a cap of £2500), but employers now need to contribute NI and any pension contributions, as well as the payment for any additional part-time hours. 
  • September - The Government will pay 70% of furloughed employees wages up to £2,187.50, and employers will pay 10% to make it up to 80% as well as NI and pension contributions. They will also pay for any additional hours worked. 
  • October - The Government will pay 60% of furloughed employees wages up to £1,875 and employers will pay 20% to make it up to 80% and the NI and pension contributions. Again, employers will pay for any additional hours worked. 

If you are in a position to start bringing back your furloughed employees, you need to start thinking about the ramifications. 

The CIPD is urging people to ensure they can meet the following three conditions before they bring people back to work:

  • Is it essential? Can your team continue to work from home? If they need to be in the office, are they crucial to the current running of the business? 
  • Is it sufficiently safe? All employers have a duty of care to make sure the workplace is sufficiently safe to return. If there is the option, can you introduce a gradual return to make sure the numbers are manageable? 
  • Is it mutually agreed? All businesses should be communicating with their team to make sure they are part of the decision to come back. Businesses will need to consider aspects like public transport, and showing flexibility around times of work to accommodate any issues raised.    

Un-furloughing your team

With so many employees now working from home, what are the requirements for bringing people back into the office?  

Your leadership team need to assess the need to have staff onsite; perhaps your workplace does not lend itself to meeting the Government guidelines in terms of social distancing. 

Assessing your workplace

According to a recent study, many businesses (36%) have stated that implementing the new safety measures in line with Government advice will be the biggest challenge in getting their staff back to work. 

There are significant guidelines from each of the home nation Governments to ensure your business is compliant, and the first thing your HR function needs to do is a risk assessment. 

There are obvious considerations around hygiene, handwashing and distancing within the office which should be more than one metre, especially around busy areas, kitchens, toilets etc. There also need to be a process put in place to manage entrance and exits, which shouldn't be through the same door where possible.   

As an HR team, you must develop training around these new approaches. There will undoubtedly be spot checks taking place, and your team must be following the guidelines as strictly as possible. 

Having the right training in place will also help with the psychological side of any re-introduction, which is a crucial factor.

Psychological Considerations

There will be considerable nervousness amongst many employees about returning to the workplace after furlough. Whether that is travelling on public transport, sitting in the office or what expectations will be. As business leaders and an HR team, you need to be mindful of this situation.

Communication becomes vitally important. Use this opportunity to survey your furloughed staff and understand what their concerns are. Make it two-way communication. 

If you are bringing people back into the office, build the picture of the new layout. Make people comfortable with what they are returning too. Perhaps create a virtual tour of the office so they can visualise it. 

Also start to address the concerns around performance. No one should be under any illusion that the return to work post-COVID will be easy. With an incredibly challenging economy, it will take everyone's hard work and dedication to find solutions. However, this situation presents an opportunity to remind people of your business vision and values, and to reinforce why people came to work for you in the first place.

If you are planning a balance of home and office working however be careful of resentment growing around beneficial conditions from both sides. Also, be mindful of any animosity between those who continued to work and those who were furloughed. Both will have a perspective, and as business leaders and HR leads, you have a role to play in making sure both concerns are heard. 

Seismic shift

Many businesses were forced into changes almost overnight that they might have taken two years to implement as a result of COVID. The rate of digital adoption for many was rapid, and the shift in working practices was seismic. 

While the battle is now on against one of the most severe recessions on record, businesses need to take a little time to assess their situation before rushing their staff back to work. 

Make sure your workplace is compliant and you have the correct risk assessment, and listen to and take on board the concerns your employees have. The Government's COVID Job Retention Scheme still has a few months to run so capitalise on the opportunity it provides and make sure your business is in the best possible condition to tackle the next phase of this epidemic.


Ewan Anderson
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