Furloughed Employees – What Happens Next?

Three months ago, some of us were unfamiliar with the concept of furloughed employees. Because of COVID-19, however, we can read about it almost daily in the press. Further, many businesses and employees have been subject to its implementation for the past couple of months following the UK government’s announcement of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme back in March.

Since then, there have been question marks as to what the scheme exactly will entail, who is eligible for the scheme, when it will end, and how and when to apply for it. Though many questions have been answered in the meantime, and businesses have successfully applied for and received their first grants, there are still perceived uncertainties regarding what the next step will be.

The most recent announcement made by the Chancellor on 12th May, extended the end date of the governmentally supported furlough period from end of June until end of October, along with some variations made to its format starting in August. With that in mind – what does the extension mean for UK employers and their furloughed workers? And when furlough ends – what are your options and liabilities? We have outlined some key aspects to consider below.

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme – the Basics

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme was initially announced back on 20th March, as a support scheme for all UK businesses who have been severely, negatively affected by COVID-19, in order to protect millions of jobs and businesses.

Through the portal which went live on April 20th, employers can claim back 80% of furloughed workers wages, capped at  £2,500 per month per employee. Additionally, the employer can claim for associated Employer National Insurance contributions (NIC) and minimum automatic enrolment employer pension contributions.

In order to qualify, the Company applying for the scheme must have been negatively affected by Covid-19 and the employee must either be at risk of being made redundant or have stopped working for their employer. Further, the employee must have been on PAYE payroll on 19 March 2020. Claims can be backdated until 1 March and submitted at least every 3 weeks, which is also the minimum period that an employee can be furloughed for. Employees can be taken off furlough if there is work to do and then placed back on furlough again, as long as each furloughed period lasts for a minimum duration of 3 weeks, which is good for Companies who perhaps need to rotate their employees.

Read more about the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and FAQs, such as how and where to claim, here.

Furloughed employees – what’s the latest?

On 12th May, almost two months after its first implementation, the government announced an extension of the current furlough period, which was previously set to finish by the end of June. With the new terms, the scheme will sustain in its current format for another month, thus, until the end of July. However, employees can remain on government supported furlough until the end of October, though under different circumstances.

Furloughed workers will from the start of August be able to return to work part-time, by which time employers will be expected to pay a percentage towards the furloughed staff’s salaries. These contributions will in turn partly replace those made by the government, thus ensuring that employees will continue to receive 80% of their salary, up to £2,500 a month. At the time of writing, the UK Government have still to issue any detailed guidance on how the altered scheme will look or any rules around this.

Extending Existing Furlough – What to Consider

Since the extension is no longer simply speculative but rather a fact, employers need to consider whether they want to keep furloughing current employees. If so, this needs to be communicated clearly and promptly to the employee, and the employer must consider what was initially stated in the original furlough letter/documentation, such as changing the end date of furlough. If any further changes need to be made, this has to be completed in agreement with the employee – remember that you are changing their terms and conditions of employment.

Employers should also consider how they communicate with employees, and make sure to keep them informed of both their own and the business’ situation. The most recent announcement might awaken some questions among your workforce who are currently on furlough – don’t leave them out in the dark but keep them updated on your plans going forward. If you are intending to keep some employees on furlough and some not, explain to them why and make sure you have valid and fair reasons for your selection. If not, you could be subject to unlawful discrimination.

When Furlough Ends – Employer’s Options

Fundamentally, the idea of the scheme is to save jobs and for furloughed employees to come back to their normal duties. However, reinstating all employees is the most costly option for an employer, and requires expectations of your business to go back to normal within the near future. If so, the employee goes back to their normal salary and other conditions as before furlough, unless jointly agreed differently, and the company’s payroll function must be informed to make sure the employee receives the right pay.

If business-as-usual is not anticipated within the foreseeable, employers might want to consider other options. Among those, employers can choose to reduce working hours for all or some staff, though this has to be done in agreement with the affected employees. Further, any changes to employment contracts need to be in writing. It is also important to take things like discrimination into consideration when choosing whose contracts to alter.

Employers can also choose to continue to furlough staff at its own expense, or worst case scenario, consider redundancies. In cases of redundancies, normal procedures for terminations must be followed. Depending on the outcome, the right to redundancy payments could be particularly important once the government ends the scheme, as well as things like payment in lieu of notice, holidays and other entitlements, since these are costs payable by your business and not the government.

What Can Employer’s Do Today?

To prepare your employees for one of the possible scenarios described above, it is firstly important for employers to keep a transparent and ongoing dialogue with employees. This can be a stressful time for many, with concerns about their future employment and income. With possible changes happening in their private lives on top of that, it becomes even more crucial for employers to bring more clarity to an uncertain situation. Keep your staff informed about your current situation, and your plans for times ahead.

Regardless of the outcome, employers should also review existing contracts and company policies to avoid possible breaches. For example, redundancies/lay-offs will require timely preparations in order to give employees their entitled notice period as per employment contracts.

In order to avoid the “last resort” scenario of redundancies, companies might find other financial support measures provided by the UK government useful. We have outlined the ones currently available in our blog post here. Further, a review and forecast of your company’s financial situation and understanding your cash position and liquidity, are actions that employers should take in order to get more clarity about their situation and as a possible consequence save jobs.

Generally, employers should make sure to keep their paperwork in place. HMRC has reserved the right to audit Furlough grant claims over the next 5 years, and so you are required to hold documents for this long. The documents should show clear agreement of the change of terms and under what condition each employee has been furloughed.  Such documentation could become crucial in order to avoid possible discrimination claims or accusations of unfair treatment in the future.

For more support or advice about managing furloughed workers, or for support in making changes to your UK employees working arrangements, please contact our HR department on hr.support@goodwille.com

Onboarding Employees During COVID-19

The best made plans can be scuppered when you have to face a pandemic, like that of COVID-19. Despite of borders being closed and countries in lockdown, some businesses will try to continue business as usual, meaning they might have to onboard employees remotely. Whilst the circumstances are not favourable to anyone, many employers have had job offers out to employees for several months, and some employees will have left their previous employment in preparation for their new position.

We have outlined some fundamental things to consider when you are onboarding employees during a pandemic, to make the process as smooth and productive as possible for both parties.

Communicate Clearly & Frequently

When onboarding someone remotely, you won’t naturally interact with the employee as much as when you constantly bump into each other in the office. Further – because of COVID-19, the employee is not only experiencing significant change to their work life, but with the situation at hand, also most likely in their personal life. To bring some clarity into a time of chaos, communication therefore becomes more important than ever. Make sure you build up a routine for frequent communication – ask questions and give direction, perhaps more often than you would have done normally to make sure the employee gain enough confidence to work on their own.

In times of uncertainty it becomes crucial to communicate clearly about what is expected of the employee and the situation at hand – be honest about our temporary ways of working and what it will look like going forward. We recommend daily check-ins of the employee’s wellbeing and progress, encourage an open and honest environment, and with that monitor closely how the employee is doing.

Make use of technology

There are countless software’s available to help remote teams interact with each other similarly as if they were in the office. Video conferencing tools such as Google Hangouts, Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Skype can be useful tools not only to discuss work related matters, but also to open up for casual conversations and to host social activities virtually. Put effort into building relationships from day one – welcome the new employee by hosting a virtual Welcome-breakfast or Friday Drinks to make sure (s)he feels inclusive of the team.

Have a look at our blog post about 8 ways of keeping up the team spirit when working from home for some inspiration!

Use Online Training Modules

If you haven’t already put these in place – now is a good time to do so. Setting up training modules online requires some cross-departmental efforts, though it can be a valuable resource for future onboarding and training as well. Why not introduce the training modules to your more established staff as well? Now is an excellent time for your employees to develop their skills and expertise, both for the sake of the knowledge, but also for a sense of accomplishment.

In an unusual situation like this, it is important to adjust the training to current needs and expectations rather than running with the script. Again – communication is key. Explain to your new recruit what the usual onboarding routine looks like, and what has been temporarily put in place due to COVID-19. Ask for feedback and alter the training program as-you-go.

Ensure knowledge transfer

One thing that might fall between the cracks when your office is not operating as usual, is the knowledge transfer between team members. When employees are not physically present in the office, it creates barriers to asking questions during feelings of uncertainty. Here, making an extra effort to make personal introductions to the various team members can be a way of pushing down that barrier. Make fellow team members aware of challenges and expectations that you are facing with onboarding a new employee, and perhaps assign your employee an “Onboarding buddy” from a different department. You could also set up a separate channel in your communication tool with a group of department representatives, as a way of creating an open environment for the new employee.

Be Realistic

Conducting work remotely if you’re not used to it can be a headache. Because of the lack of established onboarding routines, the feeling of frustration will probably strike both employers and employees. Therefore, one must be realistic in terms of expectations for what can be achieved during these times. Face the facts about us being in a national crisis – and make the best out of the situation.

You might temporarily have to alter the way you measure performance and appraisals, which further needs to be communicated clearly to all employees. Make sure to give your new starter recognition for their progress to make them feel valuable and motivated. Perhaps it is a good idea to divide their objectives into smaller milestones and reward each achievement.

Make the Most of the Desk Time

Online research and administrative projects, as well as online training modules mentioned above, are excellent tasks that can be performed when working independently from home. Similarly, client facing activities might not be the focus as of now. Adjusting the working tasks to the temporary ways of working and prepare for future projects when things “go back to normal” can be a way of utilising this time. When faced with a challenge, which the current situation is for many, try to focus on the benefits and how to best manage this time, how we can learn and develop, rather than seeing it solely as a problem.

Leading a remote team: 5 ways to keep employees engaged during the coronavirus outbreak

As the coronavirus pandemic takes hold, businesses are rapidly implementing plans to follow government advice to enable millions of UK employees to work from home.

This enforced and accelerated change in the way we work brings fresh challenges for those managing a remote workforce. It may well change our working habits forever.

All UK firms sit somewhere on the homeworking spectrum. Some already have robust and well-tested office-less systems and many more have been incrementally planning towards remote working. But plenty of businesses are being forced to quickly adapt to this new and testing period of economic and social uncertainty. And that brings challenges for managers.

Here are Goodwille’s five top tips for anyone leading a team whose staff are now working from home.

1. Catch up frequently

They may be self-isolating but that doesn’t mean staff need to feel isolated. Email, telephone and apps such as Slack or Teams are great but regular digital “face-to-face” catch-ups are even better.

Your team needs to see you and you to see them. This could take the form of a regular series of one-to-one video calls, a team call or a combination of both.

It’s important that such contact is regular, predictable and structured to enable your staff to know that you’re in touch with them, listening and providing guidance. Also, offer an “open door” policy as you would in the office. You don’t have to be available all of the time but ensure staff have a way of reaching you to request a call back whenever required.

2. Offer a range of communication options

While email and text messages may be a quick fix which most employees are already familiar with, remote workers benefit from having a richer communication experience.

Video calls reduce the sense of isolation and are particularly useful for complex or sensitive conversations. Handling a performance issue through a ‘cold’ medium such as email can destroy morale for anyone working away from the office.

Video conferencing has many advantages for discussions between small teams of people allowing for visual cues in a more engaging manner than a telephone conference call.

For instances when quick collaboration and communication is more important than visual detail and in-depth discussion, team working apps like Slack, Microsoft Teams and Zoom are ideal.

Quickly establish norms and routines for when each tool will be used. For example, use video conferencing for daily check-ins. Email is great for communicating large amounts of information but instant messaging is better for anything urgent.

3. Focus on outcomes, not activity

It is not possible to manage every aspect of the work of an individual or team when everyone is in different locations. Concentrate on outcomes rather than how much activity is going on or the hours being worked.

Rather than micromanaging, and quantifying what is being done, realign your focus to measure accomplishments and progress towards goals. Adjust how you manage accordingly. Show that you’re supportive of what has been achieved rather than checking on progress and numbers.

4. Provide encouragement and emotional support

Particularly in the current context of the wider world, with 24-hour news updates on the progress of COVID-19, worries about personal health and that of others, it’s never been more important to acknowledge stress, listen to anxieties and empathise with your team.

An abrupt shift in the working environment, such as suddenly setting up to work from home, can exacerbate such emotions. Especially at this time.

Even a simple “how is home working going for you?” and a wider “how are you generally?” goes a long way – but listen carefully to the answer. Employees will soon suss that you weren’t really interested so briefly acknowledge and restate the response to indicate that you have understood. Let the staff member’s comments and concerns be the focus of the conversation rather than your own.

5. Make time for social interaction and some fun

Make the effort to structure some time for social interaction, and darn it, a little fun! After all, rarely is the physical office all “work, work, work” so why should the virtual one be?

It is important for staff who work remotely to interact on an informal basis, never more so for those who are so used to the chatter and interpersonal interaction of the workplace and who have been suddenly transitioned into remote working because of the coronavirus.

Leave some time at the beginning of team calls to catch-up on some non-work items. Encourage each member to speak and don’t just give them an update on your own family, what you had for lunch and what you’re watching on TV tonight.

Social interaction in a remote environment can feel forced, particularly at first, but persevere and your staff will begin to get used to it. Lighten the mood a little with a quiz and try tools like Kahoot! to encourage a little brain workout to alleviate stress.

Times are hard. Managing a team is hard. Managing a remote team during such unprecedented times is particularly hard. But adopting the right approach from the outset will reap rewards and establish the basis for successful remote working both now and in the future.

Coronavirus: 4 Tips for staying productive and motivated while working from home

Choosing to work from home and having no option due to COVID-19 restrictions are two very different things. Which is why there are now countless employees in the UK experiencing a wide range of emotions about being part of a ‘digital workplace’.

For some, it could be the realisation of a long-held ambition to work from home, with all the flexibility and self-management that brings. No distractions from office politics and no commute!

However, many others could be daunted if not distressed by suddenly being thrust into a dispersed team. Particularly if the shift to remote working came swiftly and ‘out of the blue’. Working from home is not everyone’s ideal scenario. Especially if you also now have bored children off school to distract you, and all the additional worries Coronavirus has whipped up.

So, here are some valuable tips on working from home, when the decision was not yours.

1. Set up your workspace

This first bit of home working advice could possibly be the most challenging, but important. Carve out an area that is your designated workstation.

Putting your laptop on the kitchen table amidst arts and crafts clutter or on your lap near the TV could provide too many temptations. Preferably, find a quiet corner of your bedroom, a section of your dining area, the spare room or even a cosy shed if you have one!

This gives you a way to transition between work and home life.

2. Organise your time

This is another way of making remote working seem more natural and palatable. Stick to your normal workday routine. If you normally start work at 9 am, then start then. If your first task at the office was always to put the kettle on, then do that!

Incidentally, if you didn’t go to work in pyjamas we suggest you don’t do that now either!

It’s all about training your brain to become ‘all business’, and getting ready to face your work tasks in the right frame of mind.

That needs to be maintained all day too, including avoiding social media or the television, which can eat into your productivity in an alarming fashion. If you use social media during breaks, close the tabs during your working blocks to avoid distractions. And make sure you complete your daily to-do-lists, or it will lead to a longer list tomorrow.

3. Take breaks

After saying that, another danger of remote working is letting your ‘to do’ list consume your whole day and evening. It’s hard to switch off when you have projects waiting for you on your device.

It’s important to maintain a work-life balance to stay fresh and well-rested. People find themselves to be more productive when working in longer blocks, without interruptions. Take scheduled short breaks to stretch, rehydrate and give your brain chance to ‘reboot’ – and, if you need to do the washing, do it in your breaks. If you are currently not allowed outdoors in your country due to restrictions, take time to exercise or read a book.

4. Take care of yourself

One of the reasons many people prefer to work in an office is because they enjoy the chance to collaborate and communicate in the ‘real’, not virtual, realm!

Remote working can lead to feelings of isolation and even loneliness. Or feeling out of the loop and underappreciated. Guard against this by using all communications channels available to you and checking in with your line manager frequently.

Don’t just share ‘data’ with your colleagues and supervisors either. Replicate the head office chat with some light-hearted social interaction online.

Most importantly of all, make sure you flag up when you are struggling with either work issues or more emotive areas. Your line manager is there to offer support and guidance, so don’t hesitate to ask for it. Address any roadblocks or pitfalls swiftly. If you need positive affirmation and reassurance, don’t hesitate to flag that up too!

Technology can be your friend, not just your taskmaster. There are various ways to set up video links, including conference calls that involve whole project teams scattered across multiple locations.

Who knows, you may enjoy working from home so much that being part of a digital workforce becomes preferable, not just acceptable!

HR Management Tips

If you’re planning to set up a UK company or open a UK office to expand your overseas operations, getting the best from your workforce will be crucial to your success.

In fact, there are usually just two reasons why your employees aren’t performing consistently at their best:

1. They can’t
2. They simply don’t want to

Your staff either lack that essential something that prevents them from performing with excellence, or they never achieve what they are capable of because they simply have no desire to do so.

It’s important that managers think about these causes as separate issues, requiring different approaches and strategies to remedy them.

Employees who don’t perform because they can’t

Sometimes, irrespective of how much you ask, demand, instruct or cajole your staff for a certain level of performance, you just don’t get it, because they simply are not able to give it to you. Some employees are masters of the ‘can’t’ syndrome as an excuse for laziness and lack of motivation.

Tackle this by asking them one question: “What makes it difficult for you to do your job in the way I’m asking you to, with excellence, consistently?”

There are four legitimate barriers that could be the problem: physical barriers, time barriers, wherewithal barriers, and know-how barriers.

It’s a simple task to identify these barriers. If your staff are given an opportunity to communicate their issues without fear of recrimination, it will be easy enough to compile a list of problems.

The easiest way to eliminate all these barriers to performance is to listen to your workers. Most people will offer a solution to their problems given the chance; you might often hear them say, “If I was in charge of this department, I’d …” Ask your staff for their ideas and give them the power to implement the solutions. If the solution doesn’t work, give them another chance and praise them publicly when success is achieved.

Employees who just don’t want to

Having removed all the barriers to excellence, you have effectively left nothing for the lazy to hide behind. Once the “can’ts” have been removed, what’s left are those who excel, and those who clearly need replacing.

It’s never easy to replace staff but it can be a necessary evil. Staff members who perform to a high level will not tolerate lazy co-workers who they have to carry and may eventually become resentful or even leave for fear of not being appreciated. Therefore, getting rid of slackers is a necessary part of managing excellence; in doing so you raise the bar for everyone and reward those who have been carrying the dead-wood.

The first step…

Set your employees up for success by removing barriers and listening to their challenges and you will find the mystery of HR management simply disappears. For more expert HR advice, contact Goodwille today.