With a brave new business world just around the corner, SMEs should heed the words of Peter Nicholls and Jenna Carberry who are senior advisors for NatWest’s Digital Mentor service.
With a brave new business world just around the corner, SMEs should heed the words of Peter Nicholls and Jenna Carberry who are senior advisors for NatWest’s Digital Mentor service. Peter is a Health & Safety and Environmental Consultant, while Jenna specialises in Employment Law and HR.
The worst of the Covid-19 pandemic is almost certainly behind us and recovery beckons, but British businesses now face the challenge of adjusting to the ‘new normal’. From adopting flexible working practices, to finding the right vaccine protocols, there are enough challenges ahead to test even the best-resourced management team, let alone firms that are still struggling to recover from almost 12 months of lockdown and its associated restrictions. To help SMEs increase their productivity and protect staff well-being, here are the top tips from Mentor, one of the UK’s leading consultancies on employment law, human resources, health and safety, and environmental issues.
Be clear on new working arrangements
A study of 1,420 British businesses by the Flex Appeal campaign discovered that more than 72% of employees were keen to retain home working after the pandemic. Meanwhile, many employers reported an increase in productivity and employee well-being while their staff worked from home. But a permanent shift to flexible home working practices is certainly more complicated than meets the eye.
Businesses are encouraged to review what worked for them during the pandemic, to help them identify the tasks that can be performed in different ways or at different venues. Flexible working practices need to be updated and a home working policy created, if one does not already exist. To avoid confusion, fear of change and unrealistic expectations, it is crucial to consult staff closely and explain all reforms.
Reviews of home working equipment should include a workstation (DSE) risk assessment, and attention must be paid to cyber security and data protection.
Rethink ways of managing
Massive changes in work practices are likely to require revamped management structures, resources and training. Line managers find it harder to motivate, lead and monitor staff, if they are not physically working in the same room or premises as those under their control. This also makes it difficult for line managers who may wish to arrange impromptu meetings with their staff.
This means managers may require extra support and training to identify the needs of individual staff members. Young workers, for instance, can struggle to adjust to corporate culture when working from home. Research suggests even the most promising home workers can be overlooked for promotion, when compared to colleagues who spend more ‘face time’ in the office.
Managers must ensure that staff members have safe home working set-ups, while monitoring workloads, and making sure they are not worn out by a plethora of video meetings caused by careless scheduling. Businesses should consider adopting ‘flatter’ reporting structures to provide more contact with workers. This will help line managers to detect the warning signs, if employees are struggling. Therefore, by encouraging a culture of ‘checking on colleagues,’ this should prevent problems from spiralling out of control.
Make sure the business is Covid-compliant
It is important to document Covid risk controls to promote best practice and protect the business. Risk assessments must remain abreast of changes within the firm, while taking into account the latest guidance from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), industry associations and advice from Mentor. Reviews need to be fully documented, as do training sessions, with comprehensive instructions provided to staff.
The HSE makes frequent visits to workplaces and responds to complaints of unsafe working practices. It also has the power to issue formal notices for improvements. This underlines the importance of undertaking Covid-19 risk assessments, implementing appropriate procedures and making sure staff are responding correctly to them. Mentor is ready and waiting to assist with this process.
Encourage staff to be vaccinated
Some businesses would like to make vaccinations mandatory for all members of staff, but that could result in legal risks and other issues, such as adversely affecting morale. So we would encourage firms to seek advice if they are considering such a step. If employees refuse to be vaccinated, the appropriate response should be based on their circumstances and reasons for refusing.
That said, there are actions all businesses can adopt to encourage vaccine uptake. They can provide staff with information, while educating them about its benefits. Employers are not obliged to pay staff when they take a break from work to visit a vaccination centre. However, by allowing staff to be vaccinated during working hours could be considered a good investment for the company, as it ensures a safer workplace and a more resilient business.
When it comes to vaccines and other workplace issues, business owners should seek expert advice. Mentor has been supporting businesses since 1996 and has more than 20,000 clients on its books. For those who sign-up for Mentor’s subscription services, they will receive free digital services and a dedicated Covid-19 Hub. It also provides e-learning modules and year-round telephone advice. Mentor’s subscription services do incur a cost.