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Farewell furlough! Businesses, it's time to welcome your people back. Are you ready?

By Miranda Murphy-Merrydew | Posted September 21, 2021

Read our handy guide to looking after your people and getting your business ready for the return to work.

Furloughs and highs

It’s been quite a journey since the first lockdown in March 2020. Businesses across the board have had to adapt either to remote working, temporarily closing their doors, furloughing their people, or even saying goodbye for good. A year and a half later, the furlough scheme ended on 30 September.

Whilst it’s a welcome return for many businesses, there’s much to think about, both for your people and the business itself.

Here's how to get your new business-as-usual off to a flying start:

1. Keep in touch to let people know what to expect – and what’s changed

  • Returning to the workplace may be a relief to some after a year of uncertainty. But it can also be a source of anxiety for those who haven’t mixed socially in a work environment for a long time or had to commute. So do keep people in the loop with what to expect when they return and any changes to the way you’re running the business.
  • A long period of not working will have affected people in different ways, so take people's mental health and well-being into consideration. Invite them to share any experiences and concerns with you and reassure them that you're there to support their transition back.
  • Create a timeline of comms to share in the lead-up to re-opening with updates and what’s happening. If you’ve given the place a makeover, share pictures. If you’ve temporarily closed the car park or the canteen, ensure people know that so they can prepare. You might also want to share new seating plans, individual working arrangements and health and safety guidance. If people feel forewarned, they can feel forearmed (and even excited).

2. Put yourself in your employees' shoes  empathise, empower, include

  • Empathy is everything. Depending on their situation, your people may be worried about their job security, childcare, pensions, or new working patterns. Address these concerns head-on, either through one-to-ones or open forums, and be transparent about their job security.
  • Give your non-furloughed people a shout-out and show your appreciation. It could be in a team meeting, or flowers, it could be vouchers, or it could be a few rounds on you at the pub. It’ll go a long way in helping people adjust and acclimatise to working together again. You can ask them to team up with returning workers and get them up to speed. That way, they can feel empowered to help the business through a period of change.
  • Be inclusive - the type of language people use at this time needs to be respectful and inclusive. Jokes about furlough being a 'stay-cation' or 'extended holiday' may not be intended to cause harm but can cause upset or resentment, particularly to those who may have had a really stressful time with challenges to financial status or their mental and physical health. This also goes for people's beliefs around COVID-19, mask-wearing being a big one. Brief your non-furlough employees on how to welcome your non-furloughed colleagues back. Ask both groups to be respectful of different experiences or opinions.

3. Adapting for your homeworkers

Remote working has been a game changer for many people, and some will want to keep working from home, perhaps with some time in the office. If some of your people will continue to work remotely, make sure they feel included in comms, meetings and socials through Skype, Teams, Slack and Zooms.

You might also want to ensure your homeworkers know about the HMRC £6 tax relief for those working from home.

4. Get your business overheads in order

With fewer people in, you may have had a break from the usual energy, water, car or broadband costs. Before you switch on the lights and put the kettle on, make sure you’re still on the best deal.

We can give you a quote on your business energy in just 60 seconds, so compare tariffs and see if you can save.

Your energy consumption will change now you've got more people working in-house. It might be worth considering a new generation smart meter that can help you keep a close eye on your business energy use. With a smart meter, you can see what you're using in real-time, in pounds and pence, with the added bonus of no more meter readings. Leaving you freed up to get on with running a business. 

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5. Manage your own expectations

It’s natural for us to look back at what the workplace was like pre-lockdown and have the same expectations of your people and culture. However, it may take a small period of time before furloughed employees feel engaged and motivated. To help them re-engage and get a sense of purpose, make sure they have the following:

  • Clear objectives - for themselves and for the business
  • Everything they need to do a good job, e.g. software, equipment and connectivity
  • A work buddy or line manager checking in with them
  • Regular meetings
  • Socials/fundraising for charity

A formal re-induction is only the start – people will need ongoing support, particularly for the first few weeks. Be prepared to be flexible and adapt as needed.

6. A warm welcome

Make sure everyone's ready to welcome people back, and the office itself is warm and comfortable to work in. We’ve got really helpful tips and advice for making your business as energy efficient as possible, both to keep in the heat and to cut down your carbon emissions. Even small changes can have a big impact on your people’s well-being and your bills.

7. Safety is still king

Last but not least, make sure your people know you’re following the latest government Covid-19 guidance and make sure signposting / signs are friendly and not too dictatorial. People have varying attitudes to masks and social distancing, so do have a health & safety briefing to make sure everyone understands what your business position is and what you need from them to keep the business running.

If it's a requirement that people take a COVID-19 test before returning, you need to make sure that they can do so (and, if necessary, help them to access tests) in sufficient time before they return.

We wish you all the best with reopening for business, and we're here to support you all the way. Find out more about our business tariffs or energy services. 

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