As of the 7th June the latest Treasury figures report that 8,900,000 people in the UK have now been furloughed. That is more than one in four workers in the UK. The numbers are quite astonishing. And we now know the scheme will run until the end of October. That means an employee who returns from furlough in November may have been away from work for up to 7 months. As someone who gets nervous returning to work after a fortnights holiday, I can only imagine how anxious and stressed I would be after 7 months away.

So, as HR Professionals “How do we re-board our furloughed colleagues”?

At this point, I probably should admit I don’t have all the answers to the all-important question… but over the last 2 months we have re-boarded over 25% of our team from furlough, so I am getting a good feel for what we are doing well and what we need to improve.

Here is what I have learnt.

Have a repeatable process

Of course I think a repeatable process is vital – after all, it is exactly what Human does (https://wearehuman.hr/features/) but please don’t underestimate just “how” important it is. It is highly unlikely that work will return all at once, so you will be re-boarding people very regularly over the next 4-5 months. Using software like Human will automate the process and provide everyone with a consistent approach. In short, having a repeatable process is going to save you a lot of time and effort and deliver your people a better result.

Empathy and Sympathy

Everyone of your furloughed colleagues will have been going through an incredibly difficult time whilst on furlough. They will have a wide range of concerns from worrying about money and job security through to living in isolation or having to deal with home schooling. Whilst you will hopefully be aware of these broad concerns, the nuances of each individual situation will be different.

There is no one size fits all here. The best re-boarding process will find time to have personal conversations with each colleague returning to the team. Base your conversations around understanding how your colleague is feeling and be as sympathetic to their needs as possible in bringing them back to work.

What has changed

The world has changed irrecoverably in the last 4 months and some things (lots of things) will never be the same again. Your business will be the same too. And if you and your direct team have been working throughout the lock down period it is very easy to assume that anyone returning from furlough will be aware of those changes as well.

With this in mind it, is crucial to build into your re-boarding process a period of learning and communication to ensure that those returning to work are aware of exactly what has changed. At a macro level, do you have new customers, or have old contacts lost their job, have you diversified your product range in order to survive? Whilst at a micro level have their been changes to someone’s role or their workspace.

Clearly communicating what has changed and why, is the foundation to building trust again with those people returning to work.

Provide training on the new stuff

Given so much has changed, I think there is a pretty good chance that there will be new stuff to learn. Don’t forget to train your returners on the new skills they need. At Leighton we’ve been training our returners on a whole host of things including: –

  • New technologies
  • New processes
  • New health and safety policies

If your team aren’t used to remote working, you’ll want to train them on how you have made it work for your organisation.

There are certain situations whereby your team will be able to complete their training whilst on furlough, the CIPD have some details here (https://www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/fundamentals/emp-law/employees/furlough) so you may wish to consider this sooner rather than later to start getting your team engaged and up to speed.

Prepare them for a very different world of work

Is it just me or has the intensity of the world of work gone up 10x over the last 3 months? Whilst I don’t think we will continue at the same level of intensity for ever, I think the new world of work will exist at a much higher intensity than pre Covid-19. This will come as a shock to someone returning to work from Furlough, because however busy they have been during their furlough period it just won’t be the same as being dropped in at the deep end of the new world of work.

The second point I’d make is that their work environments will now look very different. Certainly in the weeks before lock down they were being encouraged to wash their hands and there will have been some notices around their office. But returning now is going to look very different. There will be far fewer people in the lift, 2 metre gaps between each desk or machine, Perspex screens in the canteen. From my own experience, this can feel very oppressive when you encounter it all for the first time. Prepare your team for what they will encounter before they encounter it.

Technology, Technology, Technology

Technology is playing a huge role in the new world of work and most likely will play a significant role in re-boarding your colleagues.

If those people returning to work will continue to work remotely, consider utilising screen sharing to check their understanding. Online chat has proven a great tool for Leighton to help teams collaborate and communicate effectively. This point isn’t about the specific technology, it’s a recommendation that you utilise technology, agree that with your team and then train them on how to use it.

Provide reassurance and support

My final recommendation is that you ensure you invest a lot of time to provide reassurance and support throughout the re-boarding process. As this study shows (https://www.qualtrics.com/blog/confronting-mental-health/), mental health issues will be effecting those people returning from furlough. That won’t improve overnight. But you can help by being supportive and reassuring. What does that look like? Here are some of the things that have worked for us and our team.

  • Set some expectations – Understand what is on your team’s mind and then let them know how you feel about it. Our team have covered everything from reassurance that it’s ok for a dog to bark on a video call, to what the next pay packet will look like.
  • Daily check ins – We start each day with a daily team check in, is everything on track and is everybody ok? This helps to bring everyone together and provides a quick temperature check on the project and people.
  • As I’m sure anyone who has worked from home can testify, it is very easy to work far longer hours. You need to work through this with your team and support them to focus on delivering results and managing their time appropriately

So, there you have it, some answers/suggestions/ideas to the number 1 question that we will all have to answer for our businesses in the coming weeks and months. How do we re-board those employees returning from furlough.