Efforts to reopen businesses will need to focus on staff and their welfare according to one leading industry expert.
As the UK and other global economies look to encourage a partial return to work for those businesses and staff which cannot effectively operate from home, firms face the biggest challenge yet posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
James Crask Senior Vice President, Head of Resilience Advisory at Marsh said businesses have been faced with significant change in recent months with more to come, and the likelihood that things will not return to what had seemed normal before the pandemic.
“Firms have been faced in recent months with the forced closure of some premises and the move to remote working for many staff,” he explained. “Now we are looking at a return to work and it is many ways more of a challenge.”
He said that a key issue will be the approach of staff when faced with the opportunity to return to a work environment.
“People’s perception of risk and behaviours will need to be taken into account,” he explained. “The clients I am working with are putting a lot of effort in to ensuring they are taking the feelings of staff into account. They are also investigating what need to be put into place in terms of the measures that staff will want to see implemented.”
As such firms will need to address a rage of risk areas to protect staff health on their return. They will also be required to ensure that the steps they have taken are effectively communicated to staff so they understand what will be expected when they return to work.
“I believe if firms do not take an approach to actively communicate, they may well see friction with staff,” added Mr Crask. “What is clear is that it will be a slow process and there are number of businesses which would have liked to have been given more notice on the timing of when they could return to work to enable the preparations to have been started.”
With schools still closed staff may well have childcare issues, may have been supporting vulnerable family members. It may still be the case that home working is preferable than heading back to the office.
Mr Crask added that it is likely that firms will fall into one of two categories.
“There will be those who have been able to work remotely with a modest impact on their productivity,” he said. “Then there are those who have simply not been able to trade under the lockdown regulations in force.
“It is likely those firms in the first category, which I would include the insurance industry, will be slower to return to the workplace.
“For those who have been unable to trade and keen to re-open will have to consider whether there will be the sufficient customer demand to justify a return.
“Firms will fall into these two distinct categories, but both have their challenges. The positives we are seeing is that firms are listening to their staff and taking their concerns into account.
“What is clear is that even with the ability to return to the workplace it is likely that some of the changes we have witnessed in recent months will become permanent as both employers and staff analyse where they can work most effectively and how they want to work.”