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Back to the office? When strictly necessary and with a new approach to benefits. The desired employee experience has changed.

October 13, 2020 / United Kingdom

If your people are working from the office (or site, or shop floor, or plant) right now, you’re treading an employee engagement tightrope.  

That’s especially true in industries where working from home hasn’t been happening for a while, like retail, manufacturing and construction. These workers might have been back in the physical workplace for weeks now, often while those in head offices continue to work from home.

That raises unique challenges for HR, like:

  • How do we help those that have to be physically present feel safe?
  • How do we maintain a culture where everyone feels treated and valued equally, when some employees can work from home but others can’t?
  • How do we support employees’ different needs at different times, while HR are facing more pressure and juggling larger workloads than usual ourselves?  

Answering these questions isn’t just about short-term COVID-security measures like installing sanitiser stations, introducing new work pathways, putting up awareness posters and providing PPE – although robust safety measures are crucial.

The big issue for HR is, there’s a lot of scope for COVID to become a pandemic of plummeting employee engagement. HR has a responsibility, not only to help employees feel safe but to help them feel valued. 

That’s especially true if employees feel they’re taking an additional risk coming to work, compared to stay-at-home colleagues or friends. Employees want to feel you’re grateful and recognise their efforts. 

To that end, once initial COVID-security measures are established, HR should turn attention to benefits management. What new perks could you offer? 

For example:

  • Could you embed new flexi-time policies to support workers in finding childcare, avoiding peak-time travel or simply having a much-needed lie-in occasionally? (Even if that means supporting current hires with temporary cover for new gaps). 
  • Could you provide more robust financial and health security? For example, only 6% of companies currently offer income protection but 25% of employees wish their employer did. Likewise, 22% of employees want health insurance and 16% want life insurance. COVID-19 has changed the landscape on employee benefits. 
  • Could you introduce a flexible meals program, so employees can order individually packaged food with contactless delivery on the company expense account? So they’d feel looked after, well-fed (which aids productivity) and can also trust you’re taking COVID-security seriously? 

The truth is, there are some real challenges involved with the transition back to office – but that doesn’t mean there’s no upside. 

One big positive is the change to re-establish social cohesion. In the UK, 3.3 million people are often or always lonely – and that’s before the pandemic. That figure is expected to rise dramatically for 2020. 

For many employees, physical workplace interaction is a huge part of their overall social landscape (after all, we spend almost half our waking hours at work). Bringing people back to the office when it’s safe to do so, might actually be the antidote to future engagement problems, if HR handle the situation well.

This blog is part of The team that Eats together initiative, a content series exploring what normal looks like now, and how to enhance the working world to meet evolved employee expectations.

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The views and opinions expressed are based on the research conducted and they do not intend to present an official policy of Uber or any of its subsidiaries. Examples of advice mentioned in this article are based on open source information and assumptions made within the article are not reflective of Uber’s position.