Businesses will need to consider a new, more flexible culture in order to adapt and survive following lockdown, according to Darlington-based HR2day.

The HR firm has been working closely with SMEs throughout the lockdown, giving particular guidance to firms which have furloughed staff. As many businesses began returning to work from 15 June, it has warned bosses that it may not be possible to immediately go ‘back to normal’, even when restrictions are lifted entirely.

This includes how managers communicate with their staff, ability to work from home, management style, and the introduction of health and safety procedures.

HR2day is encouraging businesses to look at what went well during the lockdown period, and to see if any of those elements can be integrated into the new business culture in order to create a more positive and productive working environment.

This follows many businesses reporting that staff have been afraid to come back to work following furlough or working from home.

Nicky Jolley, founder and managing director of HR2day, said: “Many people have been away from the physical working environment for ten weeks or more, and people change and get used to different working habits. For example, you may find that someone who has been happily productive under their own steam feels quite resentful about being micromanaged upon their return to the office or others may feel anxious about returning to work due to health concerns.

“I would always recommend an open dialogue between managers and employees, including additional training when needed, and also some give and take on both sides where this is possible. For example, if you’ve never had a work from home policy but you could now offer the flexibility for this to support staff members, this could be a positive shift in culture. For employees, having a clear understanding and abiding by new health and safety procedures is essential. No one should feel unsafe in their place of work.

“We’ve had a fantastic response from the business leaders we’ve worked with who want to engage with their employees and ensure that they’re creating a positive, supportive culture for them to return to, not a short, sharp shock ‘back to reality’ after what has been a difficult period for us all. These businesses know they’ll get the best from their staff by working with them, rather than against them. In some cases, this means investing in training for managers to support this transition, which I think is fantastic.

“I would urge any business leaders who think that things will just go back to normal to stop and think. This is a chance for real culture change, to get the most out of your employees and place increased focus on their wellbeing so that they can focus on your clients. We can all bring something positive out of this experience, and my team are already helping lots of businesses in the region do just that.”