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Supporting furloughed staff

How to plan your next steps

Many businesses have applied for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS). If you’re one of them, here are some ways to support your staff, whether they’re not working, planning their return or already back at work.

Supporting your staff while they’re not working

Stay in touch 

During such an uncertain time, communicating information clearly and regularly is vital. Before coronavirus, being furloughed was relatively unheard of. It’s important staff understand what being furloughed means to them, and are kept up to date. Even if you can’t give exact dates for their return, being transparent about your roadmap can give staff reassurance.

Regular all-staff communications can be a helpful way to share updates, and reassure staff of your next steps, but it’s also important to connect individually with your staff. When Aticus Law had to furlough 22 of their staff, Managing Director Edward Judge, took the time to personally call each person individually to talk them through the process and the documentation they’d receive. Edward says, “Some conversations were quick, but others had lots of questions and concerns so it was an ideal opportunity to reassure them that we’re here to support them and that we’ll come out of this stronger.”

Being furloughed can affect people in different ways. Some may enjoy having more time for themselves and their family, but others may struggle with the lack of routine. Check in with your staff to see how they’re feeling. You could also arrange a weekly team call or set up a work WhatsApp group so that everyone still feels connected. Before you use any video conference or chat apps, make sure you check your company policy first.  

Warren Rogers, Director of Connection Crew, explains how regular, personal communication made their team closer. “We’ve stayed in touch with everyone who has been furloughed on a regular basis, giving them the opportunity to share what has been happening in their lives outside of work and how the lockdown measures have been affecting them personally. As a result, we’ve seen our team come together as more than just colleagues, rather friends, sharing personal accounts of their everyday life outside of the workspace.

“Looking ahead, we hope the regular contact we have had during this time helps to strengthen our culture towards staff wellbeing –  in turn, shaping a better working environment for the future.”

Be aware of mental health and wellbeing

The current situation isn’t easy and many people have their own personal challenges to deal with. It’s important to make sure your staff have access to the right support. You could take a look at the Mental Health UK website, and share resources and information amongst colleagues. Barclays Eagle Labs wellness pages also have free resources to help everyone take care of themselves.

When Munchkins Nursery had to close temporarily due to coronavirus, Director Jo Callaghan made sure she concentrated on the wellbeing of her staff. Jo said: “We made an arrangement with a counsellor and sent their details to our staff, so that they know an independent listening ear is there to help if they need it. We wanted to make sure staff had all the resources they might need.”

Encourage learning and development

It’s not easy fitting learning into your everyday life, but now could be the ideal time to do it. Ask your employees for feedback on courses that could benefit their role and arrange training courses they can do at home. You could also supply books, tools for personal development, or free online resources that show your staff that you’re still invested in them and their future.

Jo from Munchkins Nursery arranged Makaton training, a sign and speech language programme, for their staff. “It’s something we’ve always wanted to do but struggled to schedule in when we were open. We’ve paid for 18 of our staff to do the full accreditation and the rest did a taster course. Once we’re back and have cash flow coming in, we’ll get the rest trained, so we’re heading towards becoming the first nursery in Essex to be Makaton friendly. Investing in our staff has given them a sense of worth and reassurance that they’ve a job to come back to.”

Volunteer as a team

Volunteering is a way to give something back to the community. It’s also something you and your staff can all do together. Lots of charities need all kinds of support right now, from setting up virtual working spaces to writing web content. You could contact charities directly or register your interest with companies that match volunteers to those that need help.

Things to think about before they return to work 

Look at your options 

Before you end the CJRS, it’s important to think about your options and plan for all scenarios. Acas has some recommendations for key things to consider when reviewing furlough, ending furlough and changing employment contracts.

Edward from Aticus Law, tells us about the approach he took. “I needed to analyse the business from top to bottom. It’s been an ever-movable feast from start to finish. It’s the speed that you react to those changes that will ensure your success in the future.

I looked at my business as a whole, then as departments, then looked at individuals. Asking questions like, ‘Was there a loss of opportunity and a reduction in overall income to the business?’ In certain areas there were. I asked these question across the various departments in the business, and where it was a ‘yes’, we furloughed staff.

It’s not just a clear yes or no, you have to examine every facet of your business.”

For many businesses, reopening will be a gradual process which may impact the number of types of staff you need to bring off furlough. Take the time to plan for this carefully based on how your business will be operating. Like Edward, you may need to take a different approach across the different departments and roles in your business.

Munchkins Nursery gave families the option of returning from the start of June. With fewer children attending, not all of their furloughed staff needed to return straight away. Jo said: “They all really want to come back so we’re managing this with staff carefully so they understand why we’ve selected the staff we have, such as room leaders.”

Plan any redundancies carefully

The CJRS has been designed to minimise redundancies, but if it looks like you can’t avoid them, make sure you follow the usual redundancy procedure. If you have employee representatives or a recognised union, make sure they’re consulted early so they’re aware of any potential long-term impact on your business and staff. 

Rethink your business strategy 

Before your employees return to work, it’s a good idea to recast your vision and set some new business objectives. You should always revisit your business plan, but especially when you’re faced with significant change and challenge. Our guide to writing a business plan could help you rewrite yours if you need to. Things change quickly, so make sure you’re ready to adapt your plan based on the government phases as they’re announced.

You could also sign up for Barclays Back to Business programme, developed with Cambridge Judge Business School. The free online toolkit is designed to help businesses build resilience and plan for the future. 

Start conversations early

It’s important to consult your staff as early as possible about returning to work. Be collaborative, get their views and ensure they’re comfortable with the arrangement – some of your staff may be returning to work while caring for their children or other family members.

Prepare the work environment

Think about what your ‘new workplace’ will look like

When your employees are ready to return to work, you’ll need to make sure their work environment is safe. If you’re returning to physical premises, the safety of your staff and customers must be your top priority. Read the guidelines for this on the government website.

If your employees will be working from home, be open and clear about your expectations. Be mindful that some people may still be adapting to working from home every day and that each person’s situation is different. Consider the practicalities of your work set-up. Make sure your employees have everything they need to be able to do their job. Plan new ways of communicating, such as using video conferencing tools – the National Cyber Security Centre has guidance on video conferencing security for organisations and individuals.

Timewise has information on supporting your teams to work flexibly, and Barclays Eagle Labs have a helpful guide to effective remote working, plus tips on how to boost creativity between remote teams.

Be flexible with working hours

Life may have changed dramatically for lots of people. Many will have responsibilities they didn’t have before lockdown, so think about flexible working – Barclays Lifeskills has outlined some of the things to consider in this flexible working article.

Offer support for wellbeing

Remember, returning to work could be challenging for some, whether that’s because of illness, loss, isolation or juggling care for children or vulnerable family members. It will have been a long time since everyone has come together to work as one, so it may take some adjusting.

Be flexible and understanding. Morale may be low, so look at ways to help your staff feel positive. Barclays Eagle Labs wellness hub has lots of free resources that could help manage stress and difficulty. There’s also a dedicated wellness section on the Barclays LifeSkills page with tips, videos and articles to help improve general wellbeing. Listening to podcasts could also help. Mind has a podcast that covers a wide range of topics and GP and author, Dr Rangan Chatterjee’s podcast ‘Feel better, live more’  focuses on health.

Before your staff return from furlough, it could be helpful to check in to see how they’re feeling. Speaking to them individually gives you an opportunity to alleviate concerns and reassure them of the practicalities you’ve considered – such as physical safety in the workplace, or flexibility for childcare.

Jo from Munchkins Nursery, explains “We conducted a wellbeing survey shortly after our staff were furloughed, and again before they returned. We also scheduled a back to work interview and training on the new measures in the nursery, as well as sending copies of the updated policies and procedures. This meant staff knew exactly what to expect at the Nursery, and as managers we had a good sense of how people were feeling.”

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