Life After Furlough. Back-to-Work Guide

Author: Eugenija Steponkute
Published: 11/10/2020
returning furlough staff

The furlough scheme is far from new. And now, it has been brought back from years of slumber due to the pandemic. In this article, we will be talking to employers about how to re-engage their staff when the furlough period ends. We understand this to be a cause of anxiety now that the Job Retention Scheme is coming to its close. Their workplace has changed - and it’s your job to ensure your workers adapt to the change.

The pandemic brought back the practice that has not been utilised in years - furlough, as part of the Job Retention Scheme. It was introduced with the aim of preserving workplaces despite businesses facing financial difficulties caused by the lockdowns. And, frankly, it worked. ONS data from over the summer of 2020 showed that less than 1% of the workforce faced redundancy in each two-week survey period. It demonstrates that the initiative delivered on its aim of saving jobs and ‘retaining the connection between employees and their workplace’. But all things come to an end. The scheme ends in September 2021.

This, however, doesn’t mean the businesses are no longer allowed to extend the furlough status of the employees. In theory, it can continue going. But the companies won’t get financial support from the government anymore. The Job Retention Scheme itself isn’t a permission to utilise the furlough scheme, per se. It’s a measure the government has taken to provide businesses with financial aid to continue paying their staff a minimum wage instead of firing them. Surely, not many companies are eager to continue with the furlough under these circumstances. But are they ready to welcome the employees back?

The World Has Changed

Back in March 2020, millions of people in the UK were placed on the government’s furlough scheme. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, said it “has done what it was designed to do – save jobs and help people back to work, where they want to be.

However, as the scheme ends and the workers are coming back to the workplace…They are to learn this is no longer the workplace they have once known. The pandemic caused many businesses to change their processes permanently. Such as moving to either completely remote offices or adapting to the new approach of a hybrid workplace. Depending on how long the furlough period lasted, chances are the returning staff will need to be re-onboarded to get up to speed with the changes that occurred in their absence.  

How to Support Employees as They Return From Furlough Leave

You need to have a plan in place for when your employees return after their furlough leave. Include these measures to support their return:

  • Gauge how your workers feel about coming back to help them re-integrate easily;

  • Catch them up to speed on what’s been going on in their absence; 

  • Prepare a re-onboarding plan;

  • Nurture team spirit and inclusion;

  • Define changes that occurred while they were away and help them adapt.

Below, we are going to expand on these measures further.

Transparency and Communication

It is as crucial as ever to communicate with the returning staff in order to support them. Simply letting them figure things out on their own will inevitably lead to a drop in productivity and frustration on both sides. As an employer, it’s your duty to re-integrate your staff into the business. And such is done through establishing smooth and two-sided communication. 

Establish an Open Dialogue

While some of your staff may have appreciated the downtime during the furlough, others will be keen to get back to their jobs. Every employee will feel differently about coming back to work. Recognising this means that everyone can be re-engaged not just with their role, but with the wider team. However, due to peer pressure, it’s likely some will alter their answer to the one they perceive as preferred if asked directly. That would be unhelpful to everyone as you’d tailor an approach that’s not suitable to them and they would in turn potentially build up resentment. Which in the long run is likely to affect their overall performance.

A good idea is to send out an internal survey before and after employees return to work rather than calling them on the spot. This would give you visibility of where individual people across your organisation stand. It will also help you to identify and resolve any concerns they may have. Additionally, upon the first month of the furloughed staff returning, you can establish weekly (or bi-weekly) 1-on-1 catch-ups. During these, the staff can share their thoughts and experiences of coming back to work privately. Depending on your relationship, this may bring great results in the form of honest replies. However, if your employees don’t trust you, they are again likely to give you the answers they think you would like to hear. 

Keep Your Staff Updated

If there have been any changes since staff have been furloughed, it’s important to catch them up on that. Think about setting up a ‘go-to’ area within your employee intranet, where people can read the latest information (this will also save them from trawling through hundreds of emails and potentially missing important notices). For example, shared document storage could be a great way to give everyone access to the log of changes that occurred in their absence. It can then continue being a platform to document future updates.

Additionally, learn to utilise digital tools for meetings and conferences. This will help to keep communication strong within your company. It is especially important if you plan to adopt the hybrid office model (which we highly recommend). In that case, you will need to figure out a way of keeping seamless communication going between the staff on-site and those working remotely. Post-furlough, many of your workers are likely to feel estranged from their colleagues, especially the ones who continued to work throughout the lockdown. This is why this is a critical time to bring returning employees up to speed, creating as many open communication channels as possible. Otherwise, you won’t be able to reach pre-pandemic team alignment and your performance will suffer.

Back-to-Work Onboarding

You may not acknowledge the grandiosity of the changes your business underwent during the lockdown. It’s because you were there and to you it was gradual. However, a returning employee with no such visibility is likely to be thrown off by how much has everything changed. Ultimately, the company they’ve known and the company they’re returning to are two different entities. This means you will be required to onboard them once again. 

Clarify Workplace Changes

Aside from changes that are individual to every business, there are a couple that every company needs to implement in order to return to its premises. Government guidelines state that businesses must provide a Covid-secure workplace for employees. Rules vary between industries but generally speaking, include the following:

  • Ensure social distancing is maintained to limit contact between staff, clients and customers;

  • Remove direct contact where possible – for instance by closing communal spaces and using drop-off points if items need to be shared between colleagues;

  • Use clear signage to reinforce messaging around social distancing and personal hygiene, placing in areas where staff can easily see them (such as doorways);

  • Increase cleaning of busy areas, of any goods delivered to the workplace, and vehicles shared between employees;

  • Create clear policies around steps employees should take if they feel unwell with COVID-19 symptoms, and set who should be in the workplace and when so that employees can be contacted and asked to self-isolate if required;

  • Maintain an open dialogue with staff to alleviate risk, especially those in vulnerable groups, or people who have regular contact with someone considered vulnerable.

Establish a Sense of Belonging

It’s important to recreate that sense of community across your workforce. This will help give furloughed employees the confidence and motivation to get stuck in their jobs and catch up with their peers again. In today’s ever-evolving economy, companies must create a sense of shared purpose within different teams and across the whole organisation. Your team is likely to be misaligned upon their return due to individual differences that might have manifested in furlough. And the first thing you need to do is to give them new, shared experiences.

Even small gestures can make a big difference when it comes to welcoming employees back to work. For instance, you could create ‘welcome’ packs that include items such as masks and hand sanitiser, or even a gift card in support of a local business. Depending on the regulations in your area, try and arrange a little staff outing to either a restaurant or just a park. In other words, remind your team of the connection they’ve shared in order to rekindle it. Best teams don’t just work together - they achieve alignment and collaboration through also playing together. 

Routine and Flexibility

Totaljobs found that almost six in ten (59%) people are looking forward to getting back to the office as they want to restore some structure in their lives. But 32% remain concerned over their safety during the commute. This hints that while the employees are itching to go back to their routine, they also expect their workplace to offer flexibility. Prior to the pandemic, remote working or flexible hours were a rare work perk, whereas later they became a necessity. If we listen to the numbers, it’s evident the ruling demand is to find the middle ground between the pre and post-covid working style. 

Getting the Balance Right

One option for introducing a smooth transition is to allow flexible hours. This means staff can start and/or finish outside of the typical rush time, therefore allowing them to feel safer when travelling. This can help them to feel more in control while still reaping the benefits of a work routine. Also, if jobs can be done remotely, you should definitely offer this for the time being, especially with the government urging people who can work at home to do so.

Additionally, a good idea would be to introduce a hybrid office approach. This way your employees would only need to come into the office a few times a week, allowing them to manage their time better and potentially improving their productivity. If you’re implementing flexible working practices, you need Timesheet Portal. Our unique software includes a time tracking module that lets you easily and accurately monitor employee working hours. Available in days or hours, in a combination of units or rate types, such as overtime.


The key challenge of greeting the staff back when furlough ends is defining what changes have occurred in their absence. And how to bring them up to speed. Ultimately, you will need to onboard your employees once again, therefore it’s best you tailor the process and follow-up initiatives ahead of time. Whether it’s informing them on new in-office safety regulations or enrolling them on a training program for the newly acquired software, you need to build a smooth, end-to-end reintegration program.

Additionally, you’ll need to invest time and effort in rebuilding the relationships across the team. Since we are not likely to go back to the office full-time, this may pose an issue. Address it by investing in collaboration tools and hosting some team-building events (even if only remotely). The key to supporting returning furloughed staff is being there for them and encouraging as much communication as possible: with you and among team members themselves.

Are you ready to greet your staff back? Ask us for support.

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