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Creating a scalable and reassuring back-to-work plan

Social distancing at Forsberg

From working out its maximum safe occupancy to creating an induction document, discover out how Forsberg’s coronavirus back to work plan is covering all angles.

 Returning to work was never going to be a clear-cut thing. As the government seeks to control the spread of coronavirus, lockdown is likely to ebb and flow over the next few months – with businesses also like to be operating on a stop-start basis as demand fluctuates unpredictably in many sectors. Whatever your plan to get people back into the workplace, it’ll need to be flexible and scalable.

Be the Business spoke to Chris Mayne, MD at engineering and design company Forsberg, about its back to work plan. He shared some useful tips and a couple of templates the business is using to help keep staff safe and confidence.

How many staff do you have at Forsberg?

We’re at 40 people in five teams: sales, engineering, manufacture, support and administration (HR, finance and operations). We’ve now got a handful of people in furlough and a few people we’ve already brought back off furlough.

What changes did you make to working patterns as you went into lockdown?

We actually started planning quite early on in February when coronavirus was on the horizon. We wanted to see how well prepared we would be for remote working and, outside of our software team, the answer was not very well.

The business then spent a couple of weeks reworking a few things like the phone system and moving from desktops. We also had a lot of cybersecurity regulation measure to put in place. By the time lockdown landed we had everyone pretty much set up at home. After a first week of teething troubles, it’s been running fairly well.

How many staff have you had working on site?

It varies from week to week depending on the level of work. We have some regular contracts and ad hoc orders in the pipeline. This week, for example, we received a new order, so we brought back in four more hardware engineers. They work hands-on with our products so presence on site is the only way.

Apart from them, we’ve got a couple of people from the manufacturing team on site and someone staffing our goods-in, goods-out function. It varies between five and nine people on the premises at any one time. Those people also still do as much as they can from home, admin for example.

How do you decide who to bring in when?

It’s 100 per cent driven by the level and type of work coming into the business. When a new order comes in the engineers tell us who we’ll need to bring back in to fulfil that order and when. Then our line managers work with our HR co-ordinator to get in touch with that group of people and prepare them for a return to the office, within a matter of days

It’s quite simple, all done by email and phone, no particular tools. But that central co-ordination role is essential for controlling the total number of staff in the building at any one time and ensuring we have the right social distancing measures in place. Four of our staff are in the official vulnerable category.

See Forsberg’s Return To Work process on this slide

How have you prepared the building for bringing people back in?

We’ve made preparations for both our premises and our people. There’s a whole range of physical modifications we’ve made to the office. We’ve followed official government guidelines, advice from ACAS as well as tips we’ve picked up in peer networks and from Be the Business.

Some of those have been industry-specific, for example, we’ve just built a second electro-static discharge protected workspace. This allows our engineers to stay two metres apart. We’ve got scenario plans for how we’ll scale that up to 15 people and 25 people. We know a headcount of 25 is our max for safe social distancing.

How do you prepare your staff for coming back in?

We’ve been using three pieces of communication which are working really well.

  1. A survey. We run an anonymous pulse survey that asks people how they feel about it, what worries they have, what they’d like to see in place and so on. That would be my strongest recommendation to other business owners – get to know the levels and types of anxiety in your workforce with an anonymous survey. Unless you know what people are worried about you can’t do anything to reassure them.
  2. A PowerPoint. We created a deck which explains to people how we’re approaching the whole staffing resourcing issue, showing that we’re basing it entirely on safety guidelines and on the amount of work available. I think it helps people understand who we bring in, why and when. And the transparency helps explain why things might seem up and down for the next few months. This is in addition to a whole host of wellbeing support we’ve always offered.
  3. An induction document. This is something we require everyone to read carefully before they come back into the workplace. We ask them to sign by email. It covers all the new measures, processes and protocols for social distancing in our building, e.g. one-in-one-out in the kitchen, use of hand gel etc. We picked up in the survey that people knew how to social distance but were concerned that other people might not be doing it properly. We’ve made it obligatory that everyone coming back in must go through this induction process and that’s helped to reassure people.

See Forsberg’s Return to Work induction document

See Forsberg’s employee wellbeing support services

Do you think this new way of operating will be successful in the medium to long term?

This process is still in the making obviously, but we’re confident that this plan can scale up and down quickly and smoothly. We’ve been wanting to introduce flexible and remote working for some time now but found a few barriers to making that happen. This crisis has shown everyone that is working and I think there are a lot of operational gains to be had. That’s been the silver lining for me so far.

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