Managing the return to work

The government has announced plans for its phased return to work. Mark Knight, Cornwall Glass, argues that from an HR perspective, preparation needs to go beyond practical considerations.

Remember that feeling that you get on your first day back after being away on holiday? The fact that it takes a little time to get back into the swing of things?

Now multiply that. Consider the anxiety that people have struggled with and will struggle with coming back into a working environment. The concern that they may have for their health and well-being, the security of their job, the challenge of working alongside someone again.

Companies and employers need to be focused on balancing the books and getting back to work, but they also need to give time and thought to how they can and will need to support their teams as they come back.

We have been meeting as a senior management team remotely to discuss our plans for return. There’s a huge amount to consider: who we bring back first; the nature of a phased return; how we manage inventory; cash; and balance the books.

We have also been very focused throughout on colleagues and how we can support them. The industry is short on skills. We want to make sure that we retain the skills that we have to support our plans for not only today, tomorrow and the coming weeks and months but the long term.

Cornwall Glass Manufacturing’s return to work has been focused so far on our Plymouth operation, returning with a skeleton staff at the end of April. This was expanded on May 11, building capacity in line with growing demand.

We’ve maintained a regular dialogue with colleagues throughout, by email and by letter. We now have to make decisions about our return to work which are ultimately driven by commercial reality: which employees have the widest and most transferable skills sets, which sites offer us the greatest flexibility?

We’re not alone in making those decisions, but we are acutely aware that that those colleagues who remain on furlough will naturally be asking why and wondering when they will come back?
Our Plymouth IGU and glass processing facility is geared to high-volume IGU fabrication, including the manufacture of super-sized units. This includes automated concertina racks and gantry crane and Intermac cutting tables, process cutting laminated jumbos in as little as 15 minutes.

The site also features a Northglass Gapless Series toughening furnace capable of handling sheets of 2,850mm x 4,200mm. Our Bystronic IGU line is meanwhile capable of handling units of up to 2.7m x 5m.

We’ve seen the greatest demand from commercial customers; a lot of sites didn’t close down, others are being reopened, and that’s creating a higher level of demand, including for larger units.
We can meet that demand most effectively through Plymouth.

We will, however, be opening other sites and bringing more colleagues back as we move forward. It’s about timing and ensuring that we manage our return exceptionally carefully so that it is sustainable.

New controls include:

Risk assess the return to work. We’ve had teams reviewing our processes to understand how close they get to each other, and to establish the controls that we need to put in place.

Cultural change. Cornwall Glass team members go through an awareness programme to build understanding of what is required to support the return to work, including ‘wellness’/fitness for work, distancing and hygiene, as well as requirements for PPE.

PPE. At the time of writing there was no specific requirement for facemasks, although there is a suggestion that this may change.

Support for employees coming out of furlough. Cornwall Glass has maintained an open and transparent dialogue with employees throughout the crisis. This has been important in supporting our team as they returns for work.

Support for colleagues coming back to work in later phases. We don’t want our colleagues to think that just because the site they work at hasn’t reopened yet or they haven’t been called back in, that it’s not going to happen. So, we’re maintaining communication with those still in furlough.

Watch the interview with Mark here.