Returning to the Workplace - HR/Talent & WHS Roundtable - Event Takeaways

21 May 2020 Victoria Butt

Returning To The Workplace event | Parity Consulting | Lisa Elias, Deepak Singh, Dianne McCabe & Victoria Butt

Returning to the Workplace – Keeping your employees safe, engaged & productive!

These insights are suitable for HR/Talent, WH&S and business crisis teams who are taking the lead to ensure that their organisations are building appropriate plans to have their employees return to the workplace in a safe manner. This will not only include looking at the physical aspect of distancing, how many people are permitted in the building or cleanliness, but also the mental health of their employees and being able to move forward to what is believed to be a new era for the way we work – the new norm.

We will be exploring the discussions had with our Managing Director, Victoria Butt, along with guest speakers, Lisa Elias (GM People & Culture @ EISS Super), Deepak Singh (Regional HR & Head of D&I @ GBG) and Dianne McCabe (Director & Change Coach @ the happy path). This, as well as other research compiled, will provide you with a detailed view of what current practices Australian and globally based organisations are putting into practice right now. What is absolutely crucial to remember from this research, is that one size does not fit all, and that every organisation will have their own process depending on their size, space available and capability to have an extensive distributed workforce.

Key actions & considerations regarding the return to the workplace:

  • Duty of care to employees and society is paramount:

    At the top of every organisation’s list when returning to work has been the safety of their staff and society. Every action taken must ensure that it is safe for the employee and those around them. What has been great and encouraging to see is that the majority of organisations are taking the approach for the foreseeable future to have their employees returning only IF they are comfortable doing so – with proactive conversations being had with others who are not so comfortable yet.

  • Staggered and rotational return to work:

    To fight the potential spread of infection, organisations are taking a similar approach of either having a certain percentage or number of people returning to the workplace. Some examples include anywhere between 5-50% of the organisation returning, or in some cases, having a maximum of 200 people in office at any given time (spread over 2 floors).

  • Having medical equipment & safety measures in place:

    We have seen several organisations provide medical equipment such as thermometers to their employees to self-test at home or have them ready at reception desks to test people when entering. Some building management companies are also taking these preventative measures on all people entering their premises, in some cases, having an on-duty nurse complete the screening. Other examples include providing flu vaccinations at the office as well as encouraging their employees not to come into the office if they show any symptoms – do not risk ‘soldiering on’!

  • Physical spacing, distancing and visitors:

    It is extremely important to abide by government guidelines, but this will inherently go against a lot of ‘commercial’ conversations about cost-savings. Now is not the time to reduce floor space; organisations need to either maintain or possibly spread out more depending on how many people will be in the workplace at any one time.

  • Cleanliness:

    Not to be underestimated at all, a cleaning policy must be set in stone as well as a sanitation policy. Ensuring not only are employees keeping their work areas clean, but also having a regular professional clean of the office space and all of its amenities is crucial.

  • The right levels of connectivity are maintained:

    Most employees have just adapted to working from home, being connected and networking digitally – now with organisations preparing to return their employees to the workplace, many employees are resistant to things going back to the way they were.  It will be crucial for business leaders to strike a balance so that the needs of their employees and the business are met. They will then need to engage the right platform (whether it’s Skype, Zoom, MS Teams, etc) to properly engage parts of the workforce still working from home and those who are now in the office. 

Potential Challenges:

  • Mental well-being of employees:

    This also refers to keeping our immune systems and physical health strong. We must take into consideration all the mental health issues that may rise from another change, whether it be anxiety, depression, loneliness and others. For example, some employees may wish to return to the workplace if they live alone and have limited contact with other people.

  • Work Fatigue:

    Many employees will return to the workplace thinking they can easily slot back into their old routines. This will not be the case; leaders need to protect their teams from burnout.

  • Travel to and from the office:

    An item on everyone’s list! Employees must be comfortable with their commute and comply with government requirements. Some organisations are offering salary sacrifice arrangements for parking, subsidising some parking costs, altering work hours to not travel in peak hour traffic, carpooling and opting to reintroduce employees who live closer to the workplace first (over ones that will need to travel further).

  • Work productivity:

    Many employees will be adapting to have 2 ‘workplaces’ if working flexibly. Leaders need to be mindful of this and supportive, with regular check-ins on all employees to ensure they are coping and being productive.


 Other Considerations & Challenges:

  • Is this the turning point for organisations moving to a more distributed workforce? It will be for some already!

  • Working flexibly will be the norm and no longer a potential add-on.

  • Accelerated changes to business to a more ‘agile’ way of working.

  • Training for employees on the new way of working when returning to the workplace.

Additional Resources:


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