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Life after furlough – preparing for the next phase

It's been a challenging few months, to say the least, but it does seem that we may be approaching a new stage in how we respond to the pandemic. This transitioning period will inevitably bring with it new challenges for businesses and their employees. Employers need to be prepared and ready to plan for what is undoubtedly going to be a staggered and gradual return to the workplace over a potentially prolonged period of time.

Protect the individual
Any core strategy should be supported and focused on how businesses look after individuals, safeguarding their health and wellbeing. Many people will likely be concerned, cautious and anxious in returning and travelling to their workplace. Employees will want clarity on how their business intends to continue supporting employees in terms of their physical and mental health and looking beyond this at flexible and remote working options. These factors need to lie at the core of any business strategy.

The challenges and complexities, however, go beyond social distancing, anxiety and managing the health and wellbeing of people. A large proportion of people have experienced a significant shift in their situations. Duties and responsibilities have transformed for many, and in some cases, certain roles may have been allocated to others. Questions will be raised on how long it may be to return to normality, in terms of their position, for an individual returning from furlough.

It seems that this is an area that has been overlooked and maybe not considered as much as the more obvious and reported challenges of managing social distancing measures, along with health and wellbeing. Yet the implications of the social implications of people returning after furlough could have a significant impact on business development, team morale and productivity. Businesses need to ensure that these factors are incorporated into their wider strategy and provide sufficient information and a comprehensive plan of how to approach the next phase of recovery.

Have a little patience
Patience will represent another core of the next step process. Some people may take more time than others to adjust and adapt to new working conditions and possible alterations to their job role. Business leaders, HR and other executives will need to prepare for a planned reintegration process. This may include a structured approach through re-induction and retraining schemes or possibly individual meetings and reviews to enable people to discuss their duties and how to proceed with their work. Some people will require and request a staggered reintroduction into their work and employers need to be prepared and capable of meeting these requests. Businesses will need to remember what people have gone through, how situations may have changed and the impacts of other personal and financial constraints may have had on their health and wellbeing.

Looking beyond health and distancing measures
Business preparations need to look beyond health and distancing measures, which clearly will need to be put in place. Some businesses will have people who have been furloughed, while others may have continued to work and of those still working some will have experienced a rise in their workloads. The fragmented structure of individuals' work and experiences during the pandemic could result in some negative thoughts emerging within the workforce culture. It's critical that businesses embrace an inclusive working environment and that managers remain sensitive to any potential conflicts or tensions that may arise. Working relationships will have a direct impact on culture and the overall quality of work.

Creating collective and social relationships is a core part of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) ‘well-being model’ and ‘relationships at work’ represent one of the key principles of their job quality index for good work. A supportive and positive working environment can really boost business performance, but it can also have severe impact if it is not addressed properly. Negative experiences at work can really affect performance and productivity, causing stress and shifting attention from delivering key objectives and plans. Businesses need to consider that kind of mental state they want their staff to return to work in. Momentum works with businesses to focus on significantly enhancing their performance, health and profitability. Momentum believes that culture has proven time and time again to be an inhibitor in the ability for a business to deliver and meet its goals. Their approach is to make step changes in attitudes and the behaviour of the workforce.

It is important to take time
When we do start to emerge from this period and certain measures begin to ease, some businesses may be eager to progress with their business development plans in an attempt to generate revenue and to strive for a sense of normality again. But applying caution and patience should remain a top priority for business development. Maintaining a considerate and patient approach towards reintegration, that clearly shows support for their employees, will deliver a slower but more sustainable return to business success. Creating and enhancing the working culture will only strengthen business and solidify both resilience and reputation for the future. Ensure your people are supported, be inclusive and allow everyone returning to work to feel a part of your business again.

How businesses respond to each challenge is vital
How organisations respond to each individual situation is critical, to their employees and to their customers. It’s a challenging situation and many employers are being forced to make very difficult decisions in terms of layoffs and redundancies in order to maintain activity. Brian Chesky, the CEO of Airbnb, recently released a letter that was sent to his staff. In it, Chesky announces the plan to reduce the size of the Airbnb workforce. Chesky highlights that the mission is focused around belonging but with revenue declining to less than half of its earnings of 2019, the business has needed to rethink and restructure its plans. What is important is that Airbnb is looking at ways to adapt and respond to the challenges we face. Chesky details a number of new plans to transform the structure of the business and return a sense of belonging and connection. Furthermore, the business clearly states the support each employee will receive that is affected by the announcement and finishes with a clear recognition of the value each employee has delivered.

This period has shown that the businesses connecting, supporting and communicating with their audience are the ones that will be remembered and likely succeed further in the years to come. A similar theory applies to how businesses decide to respond to their returning workforce. Businesses that are prepared and place their people at the top of the list will be the ones remembered for creating a stronger workforce and business for the future.

Defining the next steps
As we move forward and adapt, leaders will need to focus on supporting people and providing clarity. The need for meaning is an important part of recovery from situations like this. Many people perceive their workplace as a part of them, their identity and meaning. Business leaders have the ability to define these values and support people in shaping their own values and create a shared set of beliefs to enable recovery and redefine a new path for the future.

Uncertainty stands at the core of many challenges and concerns people face right now. A clear strategy defining what will be achieved and what will change during the crisis will provide employees with clarity and direction. Continued communication, support will strengthen people’s outlook and enable businesses to maintain a connected and resilient workforce.

Written by Julia Fenwick, founder of recruitment agency BoldMove

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