Many offices are considering reopening as the lockdown has eased and COVID cases continue to decline in the UK. Photo: Getty

As managers begin to bring people back to the office, many people have mixed feelings. While people want to get out of their homes and see colleagues and friends, the prospect of working in the office full time can be daunting.

A recent Harvard Business School survey found that 81% of people who worked from home during the COVID-19 pandemic either don’t want to go back or prefer a hybrid schedule. Of the 1,500 remote workers surveyed, only 27% hope to continue working remotely full-time indefinitely, while 61% would prefer to mix homework and part-time work in the office.

“As we prepare to get back to business as usual, it seems professionals don’t want the ‘status quo’,” Patrick Mullane, Harvard Business School’s online executive director, said in a statement. “They want flexibility from their employers to allow them to maintain the new work / home balance and productivity that they have learned to take advantage of.”

While many companies are making the transition to remote or hybrid work, not all employers agree. So if you want your staff to return to the office, what should you do if your employees are not that enthusiastic?

“As more businesses reopen across the UK and we move towards normality or some version of it, employers may be faced with situations where some employees are reluctant to return to their job. workplace after working from home for a long time, ”says Alan Price, CEO of BrightHR.

“Employers will need to determine why the employee is reluctant to return, and once that has been established, the right kind of conversation can then take place with them – keeping their specific circumstances in mind, as well as the advice of the employer. government and business needs, ”he adds. “Notably, even though these three things don’t always have to go hand in hand, government directives should always take precedence.”

At present, UK government guidelines still state that staff should work from home when possible. When this is not possible, Covid safety measures should be implemented in the workplace to reduce the spread of the virus.

Learn more: How to keep remote workers engaged and happy

“Employers are also encouraged to implement mass internal testing so that asymptomatic cases of coronavirus can be detected and to communicate these measurements to the reluctant employee,” Price says. “For example, in the form of sharing with them the Covid risk assessment and the company’s testing policy. In doing so, a return to the office can be prioritized if working from home is no longer possible. “

Even if you’ve got these safety measures in place, Price says employers should be careful not to force staff back if they can work from home. While it may seem more productive to have employees in one location, forcing people into an office against their will can take a toll on morale and productivity.

“Instead, employers should consult with employees to find out when the company is proposing they return, giving sufficient notice, and discuss any issues they may have about the return,” says Price.

“These issues can very well be addressed by highlighting the steps the company is taking to ensure the workplace is secure by Covid. It may also be helpful to prioritize bringing the reluctant employee back after receiving their second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine if that’s something they want to take. “

It’s also important to remember that employees have the legal right to request flexible work for any reason. This can be to request a change of full-time or part-time job, work sharing, working from home, or a change in working days or hours. Employers are legally bound to treat flexible work demands in a “reasonable” way. However, it is up to employers how, where and when their employees work, subject to government guidance on COVID-19 restrictions.

Read more: Why it’s okay to miss the office

If an employee still refuses to return to work on the proposed return date without prior approval, employers may be able to classify this as a period of unauthorized absence.

“Unauthorized absences can result in disciplinary action against employees who unreasonably refuse to return to work or other necessary actions in accordance with company policy – the likelihood of which should be made clear to employees in the best interests. full disclosure, ”Price explains.

“To avoid this, employers may wish to consider other options where possible, such as taking annual leave, continuing to work from home until government guidelines change, or some other more appropriate adjustment. “

Watch: How to Negotiate a Salary Increase

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