More than two fifths of UK workers feel worried and anxious about returning to the workplace, according to CIPD research. Since the Government announced that those who can’t work from home can now return to the workplace, as long as social distancing measures are observed, many employees are concerned about what this means for their safety. In London, where commutes are often longer or on public transport, the figure increases to 52%.

As many begin to navigate a possible return, Sodexo Engage reveals the four top considerations for employers to ensure that a return to the workplace is as safe as it possibly can be.

Whether it’s realigning a benefits scheme to help alleviate concerns over the commute or considering other obligations staff may still have to contend with, there’s a lot an employer can do to help provide much needed reassurance at this time:

  1. Assess the necessity

The first, and most important, thing to consider is whether a return to the workplace is absolutely necessary. Even if the majority of your staff are eager to return and get a bit more ‘normality’ back, it’s important to weigh up the risk before giving the go ahead. If working from home is not possible, or sustainable in the long-term, assess how the business can observe guidelines to keep everyone safe before re-opening the workplace.

  1. Consider the commute

Before you expect staff to return, consider staff commutes and whether it’s safe to allow them to make the journey. Do they have to get public transport to get into work? If they can use a car, is there sufficient parking available? The journey each person makes will not only affect them, but it will also impact all other staff members. For example, if one person has no alternative but to use public transport, everyone else is also at risk even if they can avoid it. Encouraging staff to use alternative modes of transport by offering a sufficient benefits package may help – the Cycle to Work scheme for instance is a great way of doing this, and may alleviate any staff concerns too.

  1. Other obligations

With everything pretty much on hold at the moment, staff may have welcomed the work from home policy since other services, such a childcare, have also stopped unless you’re a key worker. Some staff might also fall into vulnerable categories, or have duties of care to other members of the household, so employers need to take these factors into consideration before making it compulsory to head back to work.

  1. Keeping flexible working

If it really is necessary to re-open the workplace, think about the level of flexible working that it’s possible to maintain. Perhaps staff can continue to work from home a couple of days a week, or maybe the hours they work each day can be more flexible than the traditional 9-5 to account for challenges like childcare, home-schooling or even avoiding busy commuter times that increase risk.

Jamie Mackenzie, Director at Sodexo Engage, comments:

“Some companies, by the very nature of their business, can’t allow staff work from home, and it’s these companies that are now being encouraged to start up operations again. But before doing so, there are many factors to consider, and employers must weigh up the positives with any potential areas for concern, and how these can be mitigated.

“While some employees may welcome the return, for others it could cause more anxiety, including worrying about their health or how they will deal with other obligations without the usual remedies like nursery or calling on grandparents for childcare. For some it might be a mixture of both. Implementing measures to combat these issues is paramount for mental wellbeing if a return to the workplace is essential.”