As new lockdown arrangements come into effect across Durham and Tees Valley, local firms need to keep talking with staff and keep their workplaces safe, according to Darlington-based HR experts HR2day.

Nicky Jolley, Managing Director of HR2day, along with her team has been providing a full HR service to small and medium-sized companies in the Durham and Tees Valley region during the pandemic.  Most of those firms have had staff back in the office, either full or part time, since restrictions on work-related activities were lifted in July.

Across the UK, lots of companies are now weighing up how to operate their businesses, given the Government’s new three tier lockdown system, and that the first furlough scheme closes at the end of the month.  Nicky Jolley thinks that firms shouldn’t rush to shrink their workplace, and that most staff have welcomed the distraction at this stressful time.

She said:  “Although Durham and Tees have been placed in Tier 2, the workplace guidelines for firms has not really changed.  The guidelines say that staff should work from home if they can, but there are so many other factors firms have had to take into account.

“Mental health is a big issue and not everyone is coping well with being remote and isolated from their colleagues.  Employees can see that firms have spent a lot of time updating their working practices, with many making a significant investment in creating a COVID-safe workplace.

“All employers should be doing a workplace risk assessment and sharing that with their employees. We recommend employers conduct return to work conversations; going through anything that may have changed, personal health circumstances and any personal impact they may have experienced through COVID, either directly or with family or friends.

“Everyone is different and employers need to realise that what may work for one may not work for others.

“Some of our clients have been able to split their workplace into smaller teams working alternative days, and a balance of home working and office working.  For anyone really nervous, I’ve encouraged them to come in for a coffee to look at the changes and catch up with colleagues, then consider a phased return. There are a lot of scared people out there but in my experience, once they have come into the office, they are delighted and happy to return to work. I think the key is not to push or force people.”

Figures released last week by the government showed that the longer-term trend of more people travelling to work was now starting to slow, with 59% of staff travelling into work either exclusively or in combination with working from home.

Just 22% of people were working exclusively from home.  Nicky said: “As time goes on it will be hard for companies to keep these workers engaged in their jobs, and there’s more evidence emerging that, in some cases, productivity is lost, not gained, as more office-based staff work from home. The technology might be getting better but workplace culture remains more important than ever.”