How to support your team’s return to the workplace
As employees continue to make their return to workplaces, many of them understandably have health and safety front of mind.

In fact, SEEK research reveals that 57% of Kiwis said they were concerned for their health to some extent when returning to work.

We spoke to Shay Peters, the managing director of Robert Walters, to get his advice about how employers and hirers can best support their employees during the return-to-work period.

The top changes to the workplace

Many workplaces have made changes to their environment and working conditions since COVID hit. In New Zealand, the top six changes that workplaces have made to ensure COVID-safety are:

  • Increased cleaning frequency (51%)
  • Physical distancing (36%)
  • Restrictions on visitors to the workplace (30%)
  • Reduced number of people who can be in the workplace at any one time (20%)
  • Restrictions when using kitchen / tea room areas (20%)
  • Keeping workspaces further apart (18%)

Increased cleaning frequency

Out of all those changes, the one that candidates most wanted to become permanent was increased cleaning frequency. For many businesses, this will mean employing a regular cleaner – or doing so more often – to keep communal spaces clean and hygienic.

Ensuring employees have the right supplies to keep their own workspaces clean is also important. Having hand sanitisation stations, sanitising wet wipes and cleaning information displayed all help staff have peace of mind that their health is prioritised and top-of-mind for management.

For organisations that operate a hot desk policy, Peters recommends making sanitised wipes available and every time an employee leaves or sets up afresh, they give everything a wipe down.

Workplaces may also place limits on the use of common areas or shared resources (such as supplied food) in order to reduce the amount of peer-to-peer contact. Ensuring that employees have individual rubbish bins by their desk can also help ensure that used face masks or dirty tissues aren’t left in communal areas.

Physical distancing

“As a number of workplaces operate flexible working arrangements with people working from home more regularly, there is naturally more physical space in most offices,” Peters says. “A lot of our clients enforce a space between each employee or have re-jigged their setups to naturally allow two metres between each employee.”

Depending on the size of your organisation and office space available, you may need to continue working from home arrangements on an alternating basis so that you can implement safe physical distancing rules. This would mean that one team of people would work remotely while others work in-house on any given day.

Restrictions on visitors to the workplace

Having restrictions on additional people entering the workplace was common during the height of the pandemic and especially coming back into the office at Alert Level 2.

“A number of workplaces cancelled meetings with external parties and these were either carried out offsite or on a platform like MS Teams or Zoom,” Peters says. “If visitors are allowed, they often have to provide details on recent travel and so forth, so the workplace can manage the risk.”

Restrictions when using kitchen or tea rooms

While Peters says he hasn’t seen any restrictions on employees using an office kitchen, he believes restrictions like this would use ‘common sense’. Some organisations have asked that employees bring their own cutlery and crockery from home as well as placing dirty dishes into a dishwasher immediately after use. If employees are using an office refrigerator or pantry, they can be requested to use a particular spot to store their food each time.

Moving forward

Reassuringly, 97% of staff said their workplaces had done an “okay” – “very good” job of adhering to rules to ensure COVID-19 safety.

“Some of these practices will continue as people have enjoyed cleaner working environments, however I genuinely believe that we are now starting to see more workplaces in New Zealand return to normal working arrangements, albeit with a little more flexibility in terms of working from home,” Peters says.

For many employees, returning to the workplace after the pandemic feels significant and for some, a little daunting. As an employer, it’s important to understand and address employee concerns, and clearly communicate expectations and procedures. This is key to ensuring that your staff can come back to the workplace excited and ready to work – knowing that their health is paramount.

Source: Independent research conducted by Nature on behalf of SEEK, interviewing 4000 Kiwis annually. Published April 2021.