Following Boris Johnson’s speech to the nation on Sunday night we are entering a new phase in the fight against Covid-19. The data now shows we are past the peak of the epidemic here in the UK. The debate has shifted towards the return to work. Montfort has commissioned its own research “Getting Britain Back to Work” (conducted by Opinium) which shows almost half of those not in their usual workplace (45%) are ready to return to work, with only 28% not ready. If social distancing measures are implemented, there is majority support for a range of workplaces to start opening again imminently, including Factories (62%) and Offices (57%).
But how can the return to the place of work happen safely when we have no vaccine, and when we don’t have a clear picture of who has or has had the virus?
This Government is updating various documents outlining their guidance on the return to different types of workplace. Irrespective of whether you work on a production line, a retail store or an office it’s going to feel very different to the workplace prior to pandemic.
This presents a number of challenges for businesses. In the early phase of the pandemic we were essentially in crisis mode – communicating difficult messages around site closures, furlough schemes and pay reductions. We have also seen challenging reputational issues around executive remuneration and dividend payments – often made more difficult when companies have taken Government support.
Many of these issues have rumbled on of course – but rather than simply reacting to events there is now an emphasis on planning for a return to work (for those of us who are not essential workers). In Montfort’s model (“Communicating through the Pandemic”) the crisis has shifted from the need for immediate communications support to communicating about transition and transformation.
And what will the transition to the ‘new normal’ look like? How practical will it be to socially distance in tightly crammed workplaces? Will we have access to sufficient PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) to make it safe? Will we all wear it? How do we ensure we phase the return to work in a way which is both safe and economically viable?
Addressing these questions will be the big challenge for business leaders. There can be no doubt that our experience of the workplace is about to be changed dramatically. And we can expect a degree of apprehension among UK workers as they grapple with the prospect of a busy commute. Listening to the concerns of workers and taking decisive action will be essential in providing the necessary reassurance.
And there are opportunities too. The lockdown has showcased the effectiveness of remote working and there may well be less of a need to be in the physical workplace – at least on a daily basis. Many have enjoyed the increased flexibility and autonomy. Taking this away as part of the return to work could lead to significant levels of disengagement – at a point where organisations need to rally their workforce around their plans for recovery.
Indeed, it is those organisations which demonstrate the greatest flexibility and adapt to the needs of their employees who will see the levels productivity required be among the winners in the ‘great recovery’.
Communicators will play an essential role in helping organisations navigate these challenges and harness these opportunities. By using our insight on the concerns and needs of workers we can ensure workers not only feel safe at work but have the confidence to play their full part in the rebuilding process.
We started to look at these issues at our recent Montfort Change/Exchange on-line session. To find out more watch this video (30 minutes) where Scott McKenzie and Jerome Reback of Montfort Communications and Hazel Carter, CEO of business psychologists Carter Corson discuss ‘Preparing for the post COVID-19 return to the workplace’.