HR responds to COVID-19: software firm Personio

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Germany’s response as a country has been used as an example to help other countries in their plans to control, contain and reduce the risk of infection

The virus spread in the country at a similar time as it did in the UK and now, both countries are making moves to slowly reopen the economy.

In the coming weeks, this will mean that some workplaces will be reopening with new health and safety measures in place.

Munich-based software company Personio is planning a two-week trial of a return to the office this month.

Recognising that people have different circumstances and anxieties about returning to work, the company has introduced the trial on a voluntary basis.

Martina Ruiss, head of HR at Personio, told HR magazine: “Returning to the office remains optional. No one has been told they must come back. We know that some prefer working from home for a multitude of reasons.

“We have found that some employees returning to the office felt slightly nervous, but most are excited to come back and meet their colleagues.”

For the two-week trial, 30 volunteer employees will be split into two groups. Group A will work Monday and Tuesday and group B will work Thursday and Friday, ensuring the groups don’t cross over and leaving Wednesday in-between for a deep clean.

By using small groups to start with, Ruiss is hopeful of a smoother transition from remote working back into the workplace and believes other HR leaders could follow suit.

She said: "Start with a small number of people during the trial phase but encourage them to behave as though there are more people in the office. For example, they must stick to the guidelines, however unnecessary and strange they may feel.

“It must not be forgotten that this is a test to see what the ‘new normal’ could look like after the trial. The more seriously people take it, the safer they will be, and we will have a greater ability to assess the trial at the end.”

When in the office, 2m social distancing will have to be observed.

Signs have been added to the floor to show people where to stand and where to wait for restrooms and coffee machines, with hand sanitizer installed at the entrance of every room.

Branded masks have been delivered to all employees and must be worn whenever they leave their desk. Measures have been put in place to routinely clean all areas of the office several times a day.

The kitchen remains closed and instead “drinks corners" have been set up for people to help themselves to bottled drinks, fruits and coffee.

Given the level of change, the company has supplied all employees with an information pack ahead of time to explain the new rules.

For Ruiss it was important that these rules be clear and easy to understand but don’t create a negative sentiment.

She added: “Don’t let the rules create a negative mood. Instead keep it friendly and fun and ensure that people feel comfortable to come forward with questions such as creative, funny posters.”

After the trial, Personio will reassess its measures and consider any changes that need to be made. At the moment, returning to the workplace will remain optional and, looking generally at the future of the workplace, Ruiss said flexibility will be essential.

“Employers who don’t allow for flexible working will face disadvantages in the war for talent – it is no longer something they can afford to ignore. For leaders and HR managers this means that they will have to reset thinking around organisational culture, remote onboarding and how they can maintain connection between teams and colleagues that work remotely.

“Creating a corporate culture will be more difficult, but not impossible. People have to adapt and it challenges HR to respond.”

Further reading:

HR responds to COVID-19: manufacturing

HR responds to COVID-19: Hertfordshire County Council

HR responds to COVID-19: DHL Supply Chain