Last reviewed 2 November 2020

Paul Clarke summarises the lessons learned in the last lockdown.

As the Prime Minister prepares to put legislation before Parliament ordering a second national lockdown (lasting, at least, until 2 December), one thing is already clear. This one is going to be even harder than the original lockdown back in the spring, not least because it is taking place as the dark evenings are a depressing reminder that winter is on its way.

Employers need to look back to that first lockdown and consider what lessons there are to be learned from what was then an unprecedented change to normal working practices.

Remember that it is not simply a case of telling people to work from home. Organisations also need to consider the following.

  • Check that employees have the correct equipment (borrowing a good chair from the office might make the difference between being able to work efficiently and struggling with backache).

  • Remind everyone of the need for cyber security. Accessing sensitive data from the office requires particular care and the use of strong passwords, good internet protection and the use of encrypted messaging services. There were instances in the first lockdown of data breaches as people left unencrypted data sticks and laptops on public transport.

  • Think about staff mental health. A regular phone call to ask how they are managing, rather than just chasing up the latest piece of work, will help to keep people motivated and give them the chance to mention any problems. Remind them that an hour’s exercise might help to ease the feelings of being trapped and isolated.

  • Share ideas about how other people are coping with working from home — especially those who have children with them.

  • Discuss with staff how their work is going to be organised. It might be useful to agree on a schedule of defined working hours and then try to avoid sending emails and messages outside those times so that people feel that they have a defined break between work and home life.

  • Online conferences and meetings were a novelty in March and April but are they really the best use of staff time? Employers might want to think about restricting the number of such calls and the number of people involved in those that do take place. Given some well-publicised mistakes with regard to dress during Zoom calls back in the spring, a reminder of what is expected might be useful.

  • The last lockdown also highlighted that not everyone is on top of the latest developments in technology. Who should employees contact if they are having trouble accessing a file or downloading a presentation?

In the workplace

The Government has recognised that not everyone can work from home and, as well as keeping essential shops such as supermarkets open, has said that those working in areas such as manufacturing and construction will need to travel to their workplace.

Again, there is a mental health issue to consider. These members of staff may have to travel on public transport and will then be in a working environment with a number of other people. It is understandable that they may be anxious about the possibility of infection and it would be sensible to repeat and reinforce the message that you are doing everything possible to keep them safe. Weekly communications on any changes and control measures will reassure staff that you are being vigilant on their behalf.

Consider changing start times so that your staff are not commuting during rush hour, for example, and review your working practices with regard to social distancing, the wearing of face coverings and hand washing.

Employers need also to be aware that there may be sudden family emergencies during the lockdown as a child or partner may be told to self-isolate. It would be a good idea to discuss this with staff or their representatives before it happens so that they know, for example, your policy on time off in these circumstances.

Coping with a crisis

Keep on top of what is happening in a rapidly changing crisis. The Government is issuing new guidance on an almost daily basis and legislation giving the fine details of restrictions is being published at a rate that even the politicians themselves are struggling to cope with.

We are continually reviewing and summarising this mass of material so that you don't have to plough through it all yourself. Check with us on what is happening so that you have the official version of what can and cannot be done.

Above all, share information. Everyone is anxious about what will happen next so you should ensure that all your staff are kept in the picture about vital matters such as their pay, working hours and any major changes that the organisation is going to make to cope with the ongoing crisis. Keeping everyone informed will prevent rumours circulating and reassure staff that their wellbeing is still your priority.