Coaxing employees back into the office – when and how?

As HR experts, we appreciate that people are unique. Some employees will be keen to return to the office and some will have embraced homeworking and never want to wear non-elasticated trousers again. Employers must decide when and how to call everyone back to their work premises. This can be a daunting task, so we have broken it down into these five steps.

Consult your employees

Does your workforce need to be in the office? Ask them.  Talk to everyone before making decisions. This will make them feel included and help compliance. Some employees may be perfectly capable of doing their job from home, but thrive on the office environment and work community. Some may find it hard to communicate or be creative via zoom meetings. Trust your staff. People generally want to work but need to know that they, and their families, are safe and cared for.

Also consult trade union representatives, employee representatives and health and safety representatives. Check any agreements to see if you should formally consult these representatives.

Talking points include:

  • Possible dates to return to the workplace
  • Travel to and from work
  • How health and safety is being reviewed and any planned adjustments to the workplace
  • A phased return of the workforce working from home arrangements

Continue to check-in with employees. Once they have returned, don’t stop the communication.

Follow the rules

If your employees feel confident that you are sticking to the law and doing everything you can to keep them safe, they will feel more comfortable returning to work. Prove to them and communicate the lengths you are going to, to ensure their safety.

Even before COVID-19, under UK health and safety law employers have a duty to ensure – so far as reasonably practicable – that their employees and other people who might be affected by their business, are not exposed to risk to their health, safety or wellbeing from their activities. Breach is a criminal offence by the employer. If found guilty, the employer faces a fine. Employers cannot insure for these fines or contract out of the duty.

You’re not alone. There are guidelines to help you:

  • In order to eliminate the risk, those workers who can work from home should continue to do so in-line with Government guidance. Remember that this approach introduces a new risk associated with working from home (including risks of upper limb disorders and risks to mental health). A working from home risk assessment should be conducted.
  • Employers have a duty of care to identify and manage risks to ensure that the workplace is sufficiently safe to return to.
  • Employers have a duty to provide information and training to employees. This must be kept up-to-date and reflect changes in the risks. Training should be provided during working hours and employees should not be charged for it. It should take into account specific vulnerabilities of employees.
  • Since 6 April 2020 statements of particulars for employees and workers should include details of training provided in any event.
  • It’s vital that there is a clear dialogue between employers and their people so concerns can be raised and taken into account. There will need to be flexibility on both sides.
  • For anyone with health concerns about returning to work, the Equality Act 2010 will apply. Particularly relevant is the duty to make reasonable adjustments and the right not be subjected to unfavourable treatment for a reason arising out of a disability.
  • If there are any proposed changes that affect the written terms of someone’s contract, the employer must consult with the employee, worker or their representative.

Consult the latest Government guidance including sector specific guidance, for example guidance for offices and contact centres.

Choose your ‘best normal’

Yes, this pandemic has been devastating, but you can use the disruption to make your business more efficient. Your company may benefit from a home-based work force. Just because it wasn’t ‘normal’ to work from home, doesn’t mean it can’t be a good thing. Don’t just put all the pieces back where they were before without trying to imagine a better solution first. Take this time to visualise a new, ideal situation. Your employees will appreciate a logical approach and may even have some suggestions to help the process – be sure to consult them.


  • Who really needs to be on site
  • Where your sites would work best
  • Savings that could be made
  • What will work most efficiently
  • What does the ‘perfect work set up’ look like?
  • Make it safe and simple to return

When employees do return they will fully expect to see change. Here are some useful actions:

  • Stagger start times and break times to avoid overcrowding         
  • Create ‘fixed-teams’ who work on site together to minimise and trace contact
  • Car parking spaces so that staff don’t have to use public transport
  • Consider cordoning off areas that employees would usually congregate, mark out walkways, and add temporary barriers between workstations or rearrange them to space people out.
  • Go ‘contactless’. Avoid hard copies of memos, touch screens or keypads – anything that many people will touch during the day.
  • Restrict visitors to the work premises and ensure only absolutely necessary visits are permitted. Limit contact with employees.
  • Train employees to maintain a ‘COVID Secure’ workplace and enforce this behaviour.
  • Create plenty of signage to instruct employees.
  • Provide onsite sanitiser and bins with closed lids.
  • Set up a symptom monitoring / tracking system. If employers want to test employees for symptoms, they will need the consent of the employee.
  • PPE can be an effective control measure but only where it is suitable and sufficient to control the risk.

Be firm but fair

If an employee or worker has an issue about going back to work, they should raise it with their employer or manager. Employers and managers should take any issues raised by staff seriously.

If someone really does not want to return to work for any reason you could keep them on furlough or arrange for them to take holiday or unpaid leave. The employer does not have to agree to this.

If someone refuses to attend work without a valid reason, it could result in disciplinary action.

Employees are likely to raise concerns about potential issues with health and safety. These could amount to a protected disclosure under the Employment Rights Act 1996, with an employee protected from detriment and dismissal.

There is a lot to consider. We recommend always seeking legal or professional advice for clarification.

Any questions? Ask

How Much Can an HR Franchisee earn?

Director for Hampshire East, Jackie Hudson invested in an ourHRpeople franchise in September 2020 and within five weeks she recouped her entire franchise investment. In November 2020 she billed £16,414. Jackie says:

“I’m working half the hours I did as an in-house HR Director and I’m earning the same money!”

Unlike other HR franchises, ourHRpeople does not take a percentage of its franchisees’ earnings, only the initial investment. This financial freedom means that every penny Jackie earns goes straight into her pocket, and she will always continue to benefit from the ourHRpeople brand and ongoing resources, training and business support.

Hitting the ground running with ourHRpeople

One of the ‘tipping points’ for Jackie when she signed up with ourHRpeople was that she was given a client to work with from day one. She now works with four active clients, averaging 26.75 client hours a week.

Jackie, a former HR Director used to work 13 hour days with a four hour commute, and now works from home. She uses her new-found extra time for on-boarding, training, marketing, blogging and personal admin. Jackie says:

“At the moment I’m working hard to build my client base and putting in the hours but with far more flexibility. I love being able to go out during the day and if I want to cut my hours down, I can.”

Jackie’s £16,000 a month success story

Jackie’s earnings are steadily impressive, but not at all unusual for an experienced HR consultant working with good support.

Jackie says: “My earnings are on a par with my previous base salary as an HR Director but without the same levels of stress. At the end of the day if I disagree with something, it doesn’t bother me as I am not an employee!” 

Learning curves mean earning curves

Jackie’s work life is very different now. The variety is huge and the number of people she works with across her four clients means that no day is the same. She’s had to become an expert in many areas, some she hadn’t used for a while and also be far more organised to balance what can feel like ‘four jobs’.

Steve Wright, ourHRpeople’s Managing Director says: “We are immensely proud of Jackie’s achievement. She has shown immense focus and put into play our methodologies with gusto, even when outside her comfort zone.”

Founders of ourHRpeople Alix and Steve provide their franchisees with thorough training and ongoing support. They coached Jackie in their proven methods to maximise her time and earnings and showed her how to effectively prioritise competing client demands. The way Jackie works now is a lot different from her corporate world. She says her confidence has grown:

“Most of all, I now have a confidence in my ability to be a trusted HR partner to my clients.  I have realised that what I know is extremely valuable and whilst it may be second nature to me, it isn’t to the average CEO of an SME.  They value my experience and input in a way which I never appreciated or received as an employee.”

Jackie does miss working alongside a big team, but feels as though she is very much part of the ourHRpeople team. She says: “You have to do the work yourself and cannot delegate to a colleague, however when you get stuck on something or need advice then Steve or Alix are there with the answer.”

Alix Passey-Brown, ourHRpeople’s Partnership Director says: “Jackie is a talented HR Director and has a great work ethic, which is why she is making such a huge success of her HR franchise. She’s adapted seamlessly to self-employment.”

To potential HR Franchisees, Jackie says:

“It is hard work.  You need to put the hours in.  You need to get out of your comfort zone and learn new things – running a business for me is the biggest one.  The rewards are variety, a better work-life balance, no more 13 hour minimum days and maintaining my earnings capability.”

To find out how you can make a success of an ourHRpeople franchise, call Alix on 03302 020218 or email

Why COVID-19 is Causing an Increase in Tribunal Hearings

People Management magazine reported earlier this week that research carried out by law firm GQ Littler found that COVID-related claims to the Employment Tribunal have increased by 27% on the previous year.

On the face of it, this news is hardly surprising.  Companies have been battling with the effect of the pandemic on remotely working teams for almost a year now.  HR processes are being carried out via ‘Teams’ or ‘Zoom’.  Everything from recruitment to termination – is all being carried out through countless virtual sessions.

Last week we wrote about the “best” way of firing someone was.  One of our  top tips was to undertake this task ‘face to face’.  However, the on-going pandemic has meant that for the majority of firms with predominantly office-based staff – this is virtually impossible, and poor practice by some companies means further tribunal claims are likely to be the end result.

Robust HR Process

During these unprecedented and difficult times, it is even more imperative that employers ensure that their employees are treated fairly.  Unfortunately, it is now impossible to wait and deal with performance or disciplinary issues on a face to face basis – nobody is going back to the workplace any time soon – and it is critical to ensure (for both employer and employee) that issues are dealt with promptly.  However, in order for them not to become part of the increasing line of tribunal claims waiting to be heard, companies should ensure that they have good, robust HR processes and procedures in place – and make sure that they follow them.

Acknowledge Stress

Employers should also ensure that they are aware of the increasing stress that could be affecting their staff.  Working remotely, managing teams remotely, maybe dealing with family members who are ill,  and the continued impact of lock-down, increases the likelihood for poor performance.  Work and home life becomes horribly inter-twined and for some, home is no longer a safe refuge from work – home life is opened up for all to see during each Zoom meeting.  The increased stress that puts on employees is bound to have a negative effect.

Employee Engagement

Employers should take care during this pandemic to review their employee engagement:  are they providing their staff with sufficient support and training to perform their job role?  Are they aware of any negative effect of continued remote working on work/life balance?  Do they offer an employee assistance programme (EAP) that allows staff professional external support?  Is good mental health high on the agenda and does the employer offer training for staff in mental health awareness?  And on a very basic level, are managers communicating well and often enough with their teams?

Don’t Become another Statistic

Employers should review HR processes and procedures to ensure that they remain legally compliant well before they need to consider starting a performance management process with an employee.  Take advice and engage with HR or legal professionals.  Not only will this save time and money, but it will also help to avoid making mistakes which could be costly for the company, both in terms of reputation and money.

Written by Jackie Hudson, Chartered FCIPD, Partner at ourHRpeople (Hampshire East)

ourHRpeople can help small businesses to navigate safely and compliantly through any people or HR issues that arise.  For more advice on remote management, EAP provision, or for sound advice on how to avoid being listed on the local employment tribunal’s next schedule of hearings, head to our website  or contact Jackie at

Is there a ‘best’ way fire someone?

Jackie Hudson, ourHRpeople’s Director for Hampshire East has terminated so many contracts that she and a colleague were once known as ‘grim’ and ‘grimmer’.

We had a chat with Jackie to find out the best way to let someone go.

ourHRpeople: What is the difference between making someone redundant and firing them?

JH: Redundancies are through no fault of the individual.  If someone is ‘fired’ it is due to  either capability or misconduct.  If, having progressed through a performance improvement plan (PIP) or having received help with training etc., and there is no change, then the scenario is very different.

ourHRpeople: What is your firing / redundancy history?

JH: I have managed three major redundancy programmes and have also been on the receiving end of redundancy.  No matter what the reason, there often remains the feeling ‘why me’?  Even when it is a whole team or an entire business – that feeling does not go away.

In a previous role, a colleague and I shared the responsibility of letting people go, and became known colloquially as the “black cloak wearers” – a reference to the grim reaper. Eventually we became known as ‘Grim’ and ‘Grimmer’.

I have two distinct memories which both linger.  The first was almost 10 years ago and cost savings had to be made.  I had to run one of the redundancy pools.  I met an amazing and talented employee who found himself in the selection pool.  He had a young son – the same age as my son at the time – around eight years old.  The time of year was coming up to Christmas.  The employee was in tears and said that his young son had come up to him the night before the consultation meeting and said “never mind dad – I understand that if you lose your job you won’t be able to buy me presents for Christmas”.  I had tears in my eyes as well.  After a very hard and long day, I flew back home where my own eight year old son launched at me saying “where’s my present?”  Whenever I had been away from home, I had always bought the children a little something from the airport.  All the angst of the day came out and I shouted at my son, telling him the story of the employee and his boy and saying how lucky (and ungrateful) my son was.  I will never forget that time but still don’t think my son had any idea of the effect his innocent question had on me.

The other was the redundancy and closure of our business and having to make my team redundant.  Having built my team up from scratch over many years, nothing prepares you for having to go through that.  You never know how employees are going to deal with the situation and that can (and does) really affect you as well.  I wouldn’t wish that task on my worst enemy, it felt truly dreadful.

ourHRpeople:  What is the best way to handle firing people or making them redundant?

JH: You have to remain professional and try not to let their emotions affect you.  It doesn’t always work though.  Try to be as kind as possible and empathetic.  End on as much of a positive note as the situation allows.  My colleague always managed to end the termination meeting with a hug and the employee thanking her for being so sensitive to the situation.  Make sure you have access to a very large glass of wine when you get home!

My top tips for handling the situation are:

  1. You should always hold face to face meetings (which during this pandemic is unfortunately virtually impossible to do).
  2. Never act without warning. Even if the employee does not have service, losing their job should never come as a total surprise.
  3. Always make sure you follow correct procedure.  The employee should be accompanied if they wish.  If they choose not to then make sure you have a note taker in the room.
  4. Don’t make the conversation longer than it needs to be. There is no benefit in trying to deliver a ‘sh!t sandwich’ as we  sometimes refer to a conversation where people try too hard to make it sound better than it is.
  5. Try to be as kind as possible.  Try to end the meeting on a positive note – maybe talk about the next chapter in their lives.
  6. Make sure that IT access is removed – you don’t want a disgruntled employee emailing the world!
  7. Respect their dignity. Take a break if necessary.
  8. Always bring tissues!

ourHRpeople: Can you fire someone and still stay friends?

JH: Ultimately the employee usually knows it is not your fault or decision.  You are the messenger who often gets shot.  Once the dust has settled, never fear making contact.  I have many friends that I have had to terminate employment in one form or other.  

ourHRpeople: What do you do when you bump into someone that you once fired?

JH: Be cheerful.  Ask how they are.  Don’t avoid them or it makes it worse!

ourHRpeople: How can you bounce back from redundancy and learn from it?

JH: When one door closes another always opens.  Remember the last time it happened to you and how you recovered from it.  Keep telling yourself that it is an opportunity.  During redundancy consultations, when you have to hand out the sad news that the redundancy has been confirmed – maybe talk about your own experiences.  Humanise it for others.

ourHRpeople: What’s your advice for those who have just been fired?

JH: Take time out.  Re-evaluate things.  Maybe consider something that you wouldn’t have considered if you hadn’t lost your job.  If it is redundancy – it is not your fault so don’t beat yourself up about it.

Jackie took her own advice after facing redundancy and looked at what she really wanted to do next. She wanted to be her own boss and earn great money – which is why she joined ourHRpeople.

Check out Jackie’s story [link] and get in touch with alix@ourhrpeople if you are looking for your next step.

How can you be a better manager in 2021?

In 2020 all managers added ‘remote management experience’ to their CVs, whether they wanted to or not. Unless you manage an octogenarian lawn bowls team, the vaccine is unlikely to get your people back in one place any time soon.

Remote working is here to stay and so, therefore is remote management. Despite trying your best, there are bound to be areas in which you would like to improve next year and mistakes that can be learned from.

Here are our top tips for moving from ‘good’ to ‘great’ when it comes to managing teams remotely.

Stop the late night emails

It may help you to get your thoughts and actions into writing before you finally switch off for the day, but it can put pressure on your team, even if you make it clear that they don’t need to read, reply or action the email until the next morning. They may still read the email and their brains will start ticking – they are human after all.

If you really can’t resist having a late night email session, either save the messages as drafts and ping them over in the morning or use the ‘delay sending’ facility. It will nurture a healthy work life balance – and make you look like a chilled out boss who has better things to do in the evening.

Cut down your meetings

We are all zoomed out. The one good thing about meetings was that they got you away from your desk and there was a high probability of biscuits. Now it’s just the same desk, no biscuits and you always have to check that the space behind your desk is tidy.

To help your teams sanity and productivity, be firm with meetings and try to cut them down in number and duration. Some people feel like they must be present on every call they are invited to, even if it isn’t that relevant to them to show that they are working hard. This can in fact have the opposite effect. Make it clear that people can decline meetings if they don’t feel they can contribute or gain much from them.

Keep meetings short and to the point, and only allow time for a brief catch up at the beginning. Keep time to talk freely in one-to-one meetings so that your colleagues feel they can open up about issues or concerns.

Turn off your camera

Being on camera for hours on end and at every zoom meeting has been shown to feel a bit like ‘prey’ surrounded by lions. You are constantly under observation and also looking at your own reactions.  You can still participate and turn your camera back on (or uncover the lens) when need to participate.

Reward output, not input

Some of your team members will be working much more than their contracted 38 or 40 hours a week because they want to prove that they work hard from home, or want to get more done. This sounds great, but may lead them to burn out or drop in productivity.

Embrace the benefits of remote working – time to walk the dog or pick the kids up from school – and space to catch up on work at times that suit the individual. Trust your team to work effectively and remind them that it the output that they achieve that you are monitoring, not the hours that their mouse is moving.

Above all, ask for honest feedback and nurture a culture where honesty is welcomed. If your team has suggestions of how they want to be managed, be all ears for them.

Have some great tips of your own? Please do let us know!

For more advice on remote management or HR issues speak to us at


This year it feels like we have constantly been reacting to events, leaving little room for proactive strategy. Our 2020 plans seem laughable now as we look back on how the year has unfolded.

Your company may have adapted well to this virtual and more agile way of working, but planning for next year is still essential, even if it is unpredictable. Upskilling in preparation for the changes to come post-COVID-19 should be a critical part of your company’s response and recovery.

What is upskilling?

Upskilling your workforce is the process of teaching current employees new skills with which to do their jobs, allowing for needs to be met, without requiring an impact on current staff. Reskilling focuses on creating new skill sets so individuals can qualify for new positions.

Normally, the need to upskill comes from technological advances which create new job roles which in turn require different skill sets.

In the 2020 LinkedIn Workplace Learning Report, results show that this year 51 percent of companies globally plan to implement an upskilling program within their organizations; 47 percent will do the same for reskilling.

Transition to digital/virtual work

The requirement that we engage virtually is pushing people in many areas of business to learn not only digital skills, but also to improve skills such as collaboration, creative problem-solving and openness to new ideas. Managers and team leaders, for example, are having to learn how to motivate and engage teams from afar. In order to maintain employee productivity, efficiency and loyalty, these new training needs must be met.

Where is your business going?

First, assess your business needs and consider how your organisation is going to work in this new world. Think of this as establishing a new business plan and direction; having a clear picture of the desired business goals and objectives will make it much easier to roll out this plan to other colleagues further down the road. 

What does your business need?

Your next step is to decide what skills are required from your employees. The top skills that organisations require are both critical and mostly transferable; examples are adaptability, social skills, problem solving, resilience and cognitive thinking. These are all broad and versatile areas, offering employees the freedom to apply themselves across a multitude of roles and job requirements within the same skill sets. 

Who will you upskill?

Gathering information on which employees are suitable for upskilling via team leaders is a key course of action. This allows managers to discuss with their teams the best way forward on individual levels; e.g. who is most suitable for upskilling and which employees might have additional applicable skills that the organisation isn’t necessarily aware of.

Follow the enthusiasm

For those who gain time in the day because they now work remotely and no longer have to factor in a commute, there’s an opportunity to use the time to gain new skills, which many people will welcome.  As people get used to changes in the rhythm of daily life in a world where work and personal lives are happening in a shared space, they can and should build time to assess their skills – digital and otherwise – into their new routines.


Creating tailored learning journeys for each employee who is to be upskilled can be a great option. Similarly, creating individual learning plans can help track and monitor employee progress to keep them motivated to stay on track and it is also key to provide regular check-ins and support. 

This is where virtual training has become a fantastic alternative to face to face during the pandemic; allowing organisations to efficiently and effectively train and upskill their staff.  Create a toolkit of the skills you decided upon in the previous stages. This will not only help foster a stronger workforce, but also will most likely increase staff loyalty and reduce organisational turnover overall. 

Welcome aboard

It is important to create an onboarding plan to help employees ease into their new roles, or the new ways of working. This can seem like an unnecessary extra step, but it is good practice to give them all the support they need. 

Employee wellbeing is at a crucial point right now, due to the pandemic. Investing time, helping to make them feel settled and valued when they return to work and offering support and understanding, will make them happier and more motivated. 

If you are thinking of upskilling your workforce and need assistance, email us at

Jackie Hudson ourhrpeople franchisee

Jackie Hudson signs with ourHRpeople

OurHRpeople is proud to present… drumroll please… Jackie Hudson!

After working on the senior management team of Liberty Living as HR Director Jackie has taken her career to the next level as ourHRpeople’s very first franchisee!

Jackie’s big dream

Jackie always knew that she wanted to run her own business at some point in her career but found it difficult to justify giving up a very highly paid job that she loved. When Unite Students acquired out Liberty Living, Jackie decided that she did not want to consider a role which would mean commuting from East Hampshire to Unite’s headquarters in Bristol. After travelling to London for twenty years, losing the commute was high on Jackie’s ‘must-haves’ for her next move. This was the catalyst that Jackie had been waiting for.

Why ourHRpeople?

Jackie is a smart lady. She spent a long time researching and weighing up her options. She wanted to be self-employed and deliver HR solutions, but she also wanted to be part of a wider team, but only one made up of like-minded, experienced and highly qualified people. An HR franchise appealed to her because of the teamwork, brand, and ongoing business support.

When asked why Jackie chose ourHRpeople, she said:

“I loved the clarity and honesty. When I asked Alix and Steve what ROI I could expect they gave me an immediate, honest (and pleasing) answer, which none of their competitors could or would do. I did the maths, and what ourHRpeople gives me for my investment – training, framework, warm leads, support, work-life balance – is excellent. Even my franchise lawyer loved the proposition!”

“What made a real difference when choosing ourHRpeople was when they offered me my first client to hit the ground running with – and an international one at that.”

Jackie is very much a team player. Her experience and qualifications are impressive and she wants to use them to build ourHRpeople as well as serve her clients. She says:

“I am looking forward to helping shape ourHRpeople right from the beginning. I’m used to sharing my expertise and making big decisions. If something doesn’t work for me, I help find a solution that will. With ourHRpeople I’m not ‘just another franchisee’ with no impact or choices – Alix and Steve value my input.”

Why did ourHRpeople choose Jackie?

OurHRpeople are picky about who they sign up. They knew that Jackie would add value to the company as well as her clients. Her CV is inspiring.

Jackie spent 17 years working for Liberty Living which owns and manages student accommodation. She started off as the only HR person in the business, working across six cities. She built up a team of nine, working across 21 cities and three countries and supported 500 employees. For the last three and a half years at Liberty Living Jackie was part of the senior management team as HR Director. Before joining Liberty Living Jackie started an HR function for a US law firm in the city, and worked in an HR capacity at an international pharmaceutical company.

As well as being a skilled HR generalist, Jackie specialises in change management and employee engagement. She has a Masters in HR and is a Chartered Fellow of the CIPD, a Fellow of the Institute of Leadership and Management and a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute. She holds a level 7 postgraduate diploma in leadership and management from the ILM which cements her experience in talent management and succession planning.

Jackie has also completed an advanced qualification in executive business mentoring through the Association of Business Mentors (ABM) and is looking forward to offering this to her clients as an add-on service. Alongside her employed role, Jackie also works as a CIPD Assessor and Coach.

Steve says:  “When we first met Jackie we were immediately impressed by her charisma, and this continued as we explored her extensive HR experience and background.  We were delighted when we discovered her sense of humour, values and ethics matched ours.

One of Jackie’s many strengths are her listening/questioning skills and she certainly put those into practice during her due-diligence! This attribute is one of the key consulting skills we look for.

We encourage a team approach to shaping how the company grows, it benefits everyone. For us, there is no point in ourHRpeople partnering with smart, driven, and creative people and not using their skills. On that reckoning, Jackie has plenty to offer.”

How will businesses benefit from working with Jackie?

Jackie offers solutions-based partnerships, developing and implementing HR strategy and organisational transformation aligned to achieving corporate strategy.

She can adapt her HR solutions to suit each client depending on the amount of support they need. If a client wants an HR framework or strategy which they can action themselves she can provide this. If they need her to be really hands on and work with the senior leadership team to define the framework and then to design the initiatives and implement the strategy, she can do that too.

Alix says: “By utilising Jackie’s skills, business owners will be able to leverage their employees’ talents and focus on doing what they are good at – growing their businesses.”

A bright future

ourHRpeople was founded to assist senior HR specialists to move from a successful corporate career into running their own business, but importantly, not on their own. There is plenty of support and proven business development and consulting methodology – shortcutting the often painful learning curve, together with access to business development expertise and an extensive resource library via a strong brand.

Jackie is already delivering exceptional HR solutions for her new clients and has more in the pipeline. She says:

“I feel relieved that the decision has been made. This is absolutely sure right thing to do. People don’t become self-employed lightly. I’m not dabbling – this is the real deal. It’s official.”

Jackie is already off to a great start, working with clients, with warm leads and delivering excellent HR solutions.

Steve says: “Jackie is part way through our comprehensive onboarding process, and she is already putting into practice our proven methodologies – and reaping the benefits.  ourHRpeople is here to assist Jackie to find clients, learn how to manage them and how to maximise chargeable time.  There is Director level support and personal development from a team who has successfully done it – twice.

With access to our document library, training course library, consulting tools and marketing collateral, Jackie is off to a flying start. She is well on the way to meeting her financial goals in double quick time.”

If Jackie’s story has inspired you and you would like to find our more, email Alix Passey Brown, Partnership Director at for a no obligation chat.

You can contact Jackie at or on 01730 923222 or 07734 558046

Fun for One – remote team building ideas

Keeping employees connected and engaged during the pandemic has been a big topic of conversation, resulting in new remote team building activities ranging from the daily zoom meeting to the Friday night virtual pub-style quiz.

Teambuilding is a sure-fire way to nurture employee comradery but many managers have neglected it during the pandemic while they have spent their attention and budget on more pressing matters. They may have begun to notice that teamwork and productivity is now suffering as a result.

Why is team building important during COVID-19?

When the pandemic struck, a large chunk of employees found themselves working from home full time. One of the most common problems arising from this ‘next normal’ is the feeling of isolation and loneliness that comes from working alone. Employees have also described feeling their excitement for joint projects slipping and feel demotivated by the lack of visibility they have within the team.

Remote team building activities can help employees feel included, remind them of the skills and support of their colleagues, raise enthusiasm, help build a team identity and allow remote workers to stand out and gain trust from senior management.

Jeanne Wilson, PhD, is a professor of organisational behaviour. In a study of 733 work relationships among colleagues from a variety of industries, she found that relationship quality was more closely tied to “perceived proximity”—or relational closeness—than it was to physical proximity.

“Teams with a strong group identity—for instance, those that have unified against a competing team or organisation—tend to have more perceived proximity”, Wilson says. At a personal level, team members who share personal information, such as a favourite television show or the birth of a child, build stronger connections and more trust.

Team building is ideal for generating trust and building a team identity. To make it work virtually requires commitment and enthusiasm from leadership.

Whether you are looking for COVID-19 friendly icebreakers, team building ideas or remote activities to plan into your virtual Christmas parties, we have collated a selection of fun, socially distanced options.


Virtual meetings can start off awkwardly. Warm the atmosphere quickly with these ideas:

Rose/Thorn: Begin by having everyone share their rose (any positive that makes them feel grateful, happy, etc.) and also their thorn (a challenge). They can be work or non-work related.

Critical Thinking: Begin by asking this lateral thinking question: “If you were alone in a dark cabin, with only one match and a lamp, a fireplace, and a candle to choose from, which would you light first?”

Give everyone 30 seconds to choose. Have everyone share their answer. Discuss the differences in your answers and what you each learned from one another.

“Do You REALLY Know Your Team?”: Before your next meeting, ask all your teammates to answer three “about me” questions (i.e. If you could eat one food for the rest of your life what would it be?; What’s your favourite holiday spot?; If you were an animal, what would you be?; What’s your favourite movie?)Share the answers and have your teammates try to pair the answers with the right person. Once everyone has guessed, reveal who gave what answer.

“Big Talk”: Start virtual meetings with a few minutes of organized “big talk” about global events and news. Before the meeting, send out a current news story for the team to read. At the start of the meeting, give everyone a minute to share their thoughts on the story without interruption or commentary. Set aside five minutes after that for open group discussion.

Open Mic: Give everyone a heads up that they will have about a minute at the beginning of the meeting to take the virtual stage. Ask them to find or write a joke, read a poem, sing a song, play the mandolin—anything they want!

Virtual team building activities

Virtual team building is using technology, emotional intelligence, and management skills to keep teams connected when they can’t physically be together. Virtual team building comes in many forms, but the best ones make employees forget they’re not sitting in the same office.

You can bond with a remote team by making sure your virtual team building activities incorporate human elements, such as information exchanges instead of rote information delivery.

The Deserted Island: Join your virtual meeting and give everyone the bad news: They’ve been stranded on a deserted island. Counter with the good news: They get to choose three items from a handy list of survival tools.

Provide a list of tools for everyone to choose three items from. The longer the list, the more interesting the game will be. You also don’t have to design your list to be sound from a survivor’s standpoint; you simply want everyone to think creatively.

E.g. rum, compass, knife, matches, rope, plastic tarpaulin, an out-of-battery mobile phone, makeup mirror, canvas tarpaulin, lighter fluid, mars bars, training shoes.

Put your meeting on hold or pause while each person gets a few minutes to select their three items. Resume the meeting and have everyone share which items they picked and also explain why. Allow time for each speaker to answer questions about their selections. Now ask everyone if they want to change any of their items and explain why. By the end of this activity, everyone will find themselves more open to new ideas.

Employee tours:  A great way to get to know someone better is by taking a quick look inside their home.  Before weekly meetings, ask team members to take turns to do a short tour of their house or remote working space over video. By pointing out some of their favourite items in their home – whether it’s an impressive Disney DVD collection or a well-loved guitar, it helps to paint a picture of who that person is.

These tours help members of the team to get to know each other better and allows them to bond over any mutual interests. It also gives a bit of light-hearted relief to the working day.

Scavenger hunt:  Since you won’t be able to plant items for people to physically find, your best bet is creating a list of subjective, goal-based items. Here are some example prompts:

  • Find the item that makes you feel the happiest.
  • Find an item attached to a powerful memory.
  • Find your favourite way to connect to others.

Have teammates share their items and explain them. You can also try pre-planned scavenger hunts which you can find online.

Offline fitness challenge: Have everyone on the team vow to complete a fitness challenge. The challenge might be completing a certain workout every day or even achieving a specified fitness goal. As you all complete the challenges independently, you’ll know you’re not truly alone.

Create and collaborate: choose a craft project such as a mosaic of painted rocks or a paper quilt, and ask everyone to create one piece independently. When you can get together to assemble the larger project, you’ll be delighted to see how all the individual displays of creativity come together. Challenge everyone to create something useful for the office using only items from their recycling bins and kitchen pantries. Have people share photos and descriptions of their completed items.

Escape Hunt virtual escape rooms: Take control of a real life expert games master, guide them around the physical room, find hidden clues, solve puzzles and battle to escape before time runs out.

Virtual Christmas parties

Sometimes – for better or worse – a year’s worth of team bonding can happen all in one night at the annual Christmas party. As we head into the silly season, employers will be thinking about how to manage the annual festivities without breaking the ‘rule of six’ – or whatever the rule might be by then.

Virtual black tie dinner: ask everyone to cook a nice meal and dress up to dine at their screen. Maybe even send everyone a mini bottle of fizz. You could turn it into a black-tie awards ceremony and announce winners,

Pass the parcel: Send a box around the team to add a wrapped gift to. Then send it around again, this tie they can choose a gift.

Cocktail making session: If you have an in-house expert they can lead the class via video call. Or you can hire an expert. Send the team mini bottles of ingredients.

Fancy dress contest: Ask everyone to dress up for your weekly call and award prizes.

Party time: party game tournament – different teams compete for a country champion,

Joke telling contest: Everyone comes to meetings with a Christmas cracker style joke to tell.

Office decorating: Allocate budget for people to decorate their office space for Christmas.

Are you having fun yet?

Always read the (virtual) room. If it seems like people aren’t interested, try to switch things up. You need to find what’s best for you and your people.

You’ll know if a remote team building activity was successful by surveying your participants. Have them provide honest feedback and incorporate that feedback into future events.

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Employee wellbeing in a pandemic – get it right next time

As we teeter on the brink of another wave of the coronavirus pandemic and another round of homeworking, home schooling and local lockdowns, it’s time to look at what we can do better next time in regards to employee wellbeing.

Mark Witte, Principal at Aon, says: “The pandemic has been a tipping point and a call to action for employers to assess how their employee benefits have stood up to the recent tests. The time is right now to ask how they measured up and what could be done differently.”

Working from home can be positive

One benefit of hindsight is that homeworking is now the ‘next normal’. A lot of the stigma around it has been proven groundless. Benefits such as no commute and work-life balance have been recognised.

Research by the CIPD shows that two-thirds of employers believe that people who work from home are more, or as, productive as employers who need to go to the office to work.

Peter Cheese, CIPD CEO, said, “The step-change shift to homeworking to adapt to lockdowns has taught us all a lot about how we can be flexible in ways of working in the future. This should be a catalyst to change long-held paradigms and beliefs about work for the benefit of many.”

How does a pandemic affect employees’ mental wellbeing?

On 4 May 2020, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released a survey stating that between 20 March and 30 March 2020, almost half (49.6%) of people in Great Britain reported “high” anxiety compared with the 21% at the end of 2019. The same survey found that feelings of happiness and life satisfaction were substantially lower than before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

The NHS reported a 20% surge in the number of people seeking help for mental health crises from March to August 2020. It contributes this to factors such as economic uncertainty and isolation during lockdown. More aggressive nationwide lockdowns as the infection rate rises again over the autumn and winter could see a further increase of cases.

Employers should look out for possible signs of employee mental health issues, including:

  • Working long hours / not taking breaks
  • Increased sickness absence or lateness
  • Mood changes
  • Distraction, indecision or confusion
  • Withdrawal
  • Irritability, anger or aggression
  • Uncharacteristic performance issues
  • Over-reaction to problems or issues
  • Disruptive or anti-social behaviour

Some of the typical signs may be more difficult to identify in employees working from home or more flexibly. Sharing information about mental health can also enable employees to identify signs, especially early ones, in themselves and seek support.

Noticing one of more of these signs does not automatically mean that an individual is experiencing poor mental health but it should be a prompt for a manager to have a well-being conversation. This can be as simple as a phone call or online meeting to check in with the individual. A good starting point is for the manager to simply ask someone how they are. Here’s some examples:

Where appropriate share any observations in a non-judgemental manner and check if support is required. HR should look to provide simple guidance to managers on structuring these conversations. The sooner such a conversation takes place, the more quickly support can be provided. Where more specialist advice is required, consider a referral to Occupational Health.

Taking steps to prevent employee stress and burnout also helps. Potential stress triggers that exist in the workplace include:

Long working hours
Not taking breaks
Unrealistic expectations
High-pressure environments
Unmanageable workloads or lack of control over work
Poor communication
Negative relationships
High-risk roles

What are employers required to do?

Employers have a duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees, and this includes mental health.

However, in the current situation, the minimum standards set by law are unlikely to be sufficient to support employees through the many different potential mental health and well-being impacts of COVID-19. Not everyone will wish to disclose a mental health condition and not all conditions will fall under the definition of the Equality Act: it is however good practice to make adjustments and provide support for employees regardless of definition.

The law and mental health

Employees who have a mental health condition may be disabled as defined by the Equality Act 2010, and will therefore be protected from discrimination during employment.

Employers are required to make reasonable adjustments for employees with disabilities. What is ‘reasonable’ will depend on the circumstances, the nature of the disability and the resources of the employer. It could however include amendments to hours or location of work, provision of specialist equipment or the duties of the job itself.

Under health and safety legislation, employers have duties to assess the risk of stress-related poor mental health arising from work activities and take measures to control that risk.

Both managers and HR should seek additional advice where required, especially where mental health conditions are particularly complex.

In an emergency, if you are seriously concerned about an employee’s mental health and believe they maybe in immediate danger, call 999.

What else can employers do to improve employee wellbeing?

Supporting employees’ physical, social, emotional, financial and professional needs strengthen their resilience – the ability to navigate and manage change during turbulent times.

When considering practical action, employers can use this checklist to prioritise their actions:

  • Ensure fair treatment at work 
  • Assign manageable workloads
  • Communicate clearly and regularly
  • Offer manager support
  • Ensure timescales are reasonable.
  • Organise re-induction into the workplace to cover any health and safety changes
  • Brief managers on the potential mental health implications of COVID-19 and their specific roles and responsibilities in relation to supporting staff.
  • Promote activities that encourage physical, mental, financial and social wellbeing.
  • Work towards a culture where is acceptable to talk about and seek support for poor mental health.
  • Ensure that good quality communication and accurate information updates are provided
  • Rotate workers from higher-stress to lower-stress areas and functions
  • Partner inexperienced workers with their more experienced colleagues
  • Initiate, encourage and monitor work breaks
  • Implement flexible schedules for workers who are directly impacted or have a family member affected by a stressful event
  • Ensure that you build in time for colleagues to provide social support to each other
  • Ensure that staff are aware of where and how they can access mental health and psychological support services and facilitate access to such services
  • Be a good role model for self-care strategies.

Materials and resources

The CIPD has a range of guidance on supporting health and wellbeing in the workplace, available on the wellbeing topic page.

See the full WHO guidance here.

Mental health guidance for managers, jointly developed by Mind and the CIPD, explains, when having conversations about mental health, questions should be simple, open and non-judgemental to give the employee ample opportunity to explain the situation in their own words.

World Health Organisation (WHO) – Mental health and psychosocial considerations during the COVID-19 outbreak 

MIND – Taking care of your staff resources

NHS Education for Scotland: e-learning – psychological support and wellbeing

Homeworking and employment law – how to tick all the right boxes

There is an infinite list of things that employers need to think about to ensure the success of a home-working workforce. As we settle into our ‘new normal’ with many employees now working from home, this is a good opportunity to look at what has been working well so far and what hasn’t.

You can send out a survey to your employees to collect their thoughts and opinions. As well as being good for engagement, it will help you build a successful homeworking policy that will work for your specific workforce.  A homeworking policy will be the bedrock of keeping your business compliant with the law.

Your homeworking policy

Homeworkers are subject to the same contractual and health and safety requirements as workers based on company premises and must be managed accordingly. A homeworking policy defines what home working means for a business and outlines expectations and obligations for employers and employees.

It may be that you cobbled together a homeworking policy when the COVID-19 pandemic struck or built on your existing policy. Now your temporary homeworking policy may need to become more permanent and watertight.

How do I create a homeworking policy?

Alix Passey Brown, Partnership Director, ourHRpeople:

“A good homeworking policy allows issues and requests to be dealt with in a uniform, non-discriminatory way. It sets out clear processes and promotes consistency.”

A good place to start is the legal requirements that employers must have in place for their employees. You should always consult an expert when building such a policy where possible.

To start, think about each of the following subjects:

Eligibility for homeworking

Legally it is up to the employer who they allow to work from home and they must look carefully at how home working could impact their business – positively and negatively. During the pandemic, benchmarks may have to move, looking at ability to complete work successfully at home, safety of the home working environment and historical employee behaviour. By clearly outlining who is and isn’t eligible to work from home, you simplify the process of accepting or denying homeworking requests. Employers need to balance business requirements with employees’ needs, aiming to be practical, flexible and sensitive.

Homeworking requests

Communicate a clear and legal process for requesting to work at home, the criteria that will be considered, the process of accepting or declining the request and how this ties in with your flexible working policy. Will there be a trial period of homeworking or any other criteria? Document any changes as an informal arrangement, subject to the needs of the business.

Agile working

It is likely that both employer and employee will prefer to work in an agile way with certain days in the office for core cover and some days working at home or on client site.

Flexible working

Employees who have worked for 26 weeks or more can make a formal flexible working request. They may be able to demonstrate that they have successfully worked from home during lockdown without a drop in productivity. Employers need to give logical reasons backed up with evidence if they can’t support a request for longer term homeworking.

Data Protection

The security of your clients’ and company’s data is much harder to control with a home based workforce. You have no say in who accesses their home working environments, or if their computers or filing cabinets are locked when they leave the premises. A complete rethink of current procedures will be required and clear data protection measures and guidelines should be in place to adhere to data protection obligations.


Employers should check their current policies to make sure that their employer’s liability insurance extends to cover homeworkers or if they need to take out extra policies.


Employees may decide employees can claim expenses for costs incurred while working from home, such as bills for lighting, heating or internet. Most do not, although they do allow printing and stationary costs, and travel to meet clients. Employees may also be able to access a flat rate tax relief in relation to homeworking expenses.

Health and Safety

Employers must undertake risk assessments looking at home based employees’ equipment, electricity, first aid, accidents and homeworking-related stress. During a pandemic, it is difficult for employers to conduct their usual health and safety assessments for homeworkers but they do still owe a duty of care to their employees to ensure their health, safety and welfare. Implement any changes and adjustments needed for employees to work from home and check in regularly to address issues and prevent isolation.

Employers need to monitor the time employees spend working, especially those who have not opted out of the 48 hour working week under the Working Time Regulations 1998.

There is no legal obligation for employers to provide the equipment required to work from home, but if they do provide it, they are responsible for it. Employers will want to ensure the ‘home office’ is well set up and is not likely to cause injury. Employees should only use the equipment for the work it was supplied for.

Performance management

Both employers and employees will agree how and how often to keep in touch and how performance will be managed. A homeworking agreement is also a good idea for employers and employees to sign, stating expectations, duration and conditions of the new homeworking arrangement.

Concerns about the workplace

Where an employee raises concerns about a ‘serious and imminent danger’ to their health and refuses to come into work because of fear of contracting COVID-19, and homeworking is not an option, advice should be sought.

How many of these points do you need to work on?

For further information, H&S or a homeworking policy template, policy development, or advice, get in touch –

This content was correct at the time of publication. Always check your government website for the latest developments.

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