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Returning to Work at Alert Level 2 - HRNZ research

With a move to Alert Level 2 looming we thought it would be pertinent to survey what fellow HRNZ Members are planning in terms of getting people back to work.

Our Member survey was designed to help understand the approaches businesses are planning for returning employees to work at Alert Level 2 and the biggest challenges involved with this.

Health and wellbeing of staff was unsurprisingly the most important driver for employers, with 70% of respondents identifying this as the key driver in decision making.  Somewhat surprisingly, getting back to business as usual at Alert Level 2 was only a secondary concern.

Almost half the businesses are planning a phased approach to returning to work with a focus on keeping people away from the workplace as much as possible.  It seems that the prevailing view is that if employees can work from home at Alert Level 2, then they should continue to do so.

Another one-third of our respondents, whilst still favouring a phased approach to a return to work, have the ultimate goal of getting everyone back into the workplace at Alert Level 2.

Respondents see a need for a mixed approach to returning to work, based on the following considerations:

  • Staff roles and whether it is actually possible for it to be work effectively remotely.
  • Number of people in the workplace (e.g. where numbers are very low, and distancing is not difficult it is easier to have people return).
  • Underlying health issues for individual staff and the associated risk factors for them or those in their “bubble”.
  • Individual preferences of staff members.
  • Workload - levels of business expected at Alert Level 2 and the impact of the downturn

Respondents commented that they expected to see more information about requirements at Level 2, so will not finalise plans until these are fully known.  In general respondents share a common need for a cautious approach that incorporates a range of needs.

Two common challenges stood out regarding the return to work:

  • Ability to establish physical distancing between employees.
  • Protocols for usage of shared spaces – e.g. meeting rooms, kitchens and bathroom facilities.

Clearly the larger the workplace the bigger these challenges can become.

Many respondents were also conscious of the challenge involved in introducing robust contact tracing procedures for returning employees and customers.

Overall, the survey results suggest that employers will have the health and wellbeing of their people at the forefront of their minds as they plan a return to work programme.  By using a phased approach to a return, employers will give themselves the best chance of evolving good health and safety practices in the workplace.

Moreover, this research suggests employers are not seeing Alert Level 2 as a full return to business as usual, but rather the continuation of a transitionary period. A full return to business as usual or perhaps decisions to permanently shift business models will likely not come until Alert Level 1.