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Supporting Scotland's vibrant voluntary sector

Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations is the membership organisation for Scotland's charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises. Charity registered in Scotland SC003558. Registered office Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh EH3 6BB.

Returning to the workplace

Now that Scotland have moved beyond Level 0, a gradual return to the office is underway for many organisations. This section has information and guidance about this process, including things to think about in relation to the physical workplace, and managing teams that might not all be in the same place at once.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD) recently published a guide about returning to the workplace. They focused on three main principles to consider during the process: is it essential, is it safe and is it agreed?

This section outlines how to approach returning to the workplace, ensuring you prioritise what’s best for your employees and volunteers, communicate with them effectively and ensure a safe and healthy working environment.

Safety considerations

Employers have a duty of care to ensure their employees are safe at work. This also includes those who work from home – particularly mental health and wellbeing. Current government guidelines state that anyone who works from home, should. There will be instances where home working is not possible, and these guidelines are relevant in these cases too. The main guiding principle should be how to safeguard the health and wellbeing of your employees.

The Health & Safety Executive provides further information on protecting workers through Coronavirus, including PPE, distancing, hygiene, managing stress and protecting home workers.

This list of FAQS from CIPD has information about liabilities, insurance, traveling to work on public transport and what to do if someone doesn’t want to return to the workplace.

SCVO also has a page which lays out practical health and safety considerations and ensuring safe premises, found here.

Risk assessment

One of the first and main things that needs to be considered is making the workplace a safe environment to return to. This should always be a priority, but especially during the Coronavirus recovery. It’s vital in making sure everyone feels comfortable to return to work and all necessary safety measures are in place to stop further spread of the virus.

Under Health & Safety laws, employers are required to make sure their staff are protected from harm and there are several ways to do this. One of them is by carrying out a risk assessment. This will allow you to identify what might cause harm at your workplace, how likely it is to happen and ways to stop it from causing harm.

The Health & Safety Executive has a simple outline of how a risk assessment works.

Supporting Occupational Medicine have multiple resources available, including a person-based risk assessment document.

The CIPD have also developed a Coronavirus Risk Assessment template for workplace safety.

Individual health and safety

Returning to the workplace after a significant period of time, especially in a post-pandemic world, will be concerning for many people.

It’s important to talk to everyone individually about their concerns and how they want to return to the workplace. It’s important to retain these conversations for your records, and CIPD have created a template document specifically for this purpose.

The mental health and wellbeing of your employees and volunteers is a really important consideration when making plans to return to the workplace. SCVO has a page dedicated to mental health and wellbeing, with resources including a Wellness Action Plan.

Essential people considerations

Involving your employees in making decisions about returning to the workplace will be helpful in ensuring everyone has a say about what their needs are. The extended period of time that people have spent working from home might have changed the way they want to work in the future and it’s important that their thoughts and concerns are listened to.


Engaging with your employees is essential for maintaining productivity and wellbeing throughout your organisation.

It’s important to give people as much time as possible to get used to the idea of returning to the workplace, so involving your teams right from the beginning will help to build trust, respect and buy in from everyone.

Before you make any decisions or putting anything down on paper, you might want to discuss plans with people individually, or complete a staff survey, asking if people want to return to the office/workplace full time or work from home some of the time, how they’re feeling about the change happening and if they have any ideas to contribute. Offering a clear dialogue between you and your employees for concerns to be raised will help to make your final plans inclusive and well considered.

Consulting with everyone individually also means there has to be mutual flexibility between you and the employee. For example, if they want to continue working from home and you want everyone to work from the office, a mutual agreement of working part time from the office might be made. Remembering to prioritise health and safety, it might be necessary to stagger starting times or only having certain teams in the workplace at once, which would make your plans more complex. This is why open and up-front engagement is so important.

Consulting with your Trade Union

If you work with a Trade Union, you are legally obliged to consult with them about health and safety. The Scottish Trade Union Congress has published some information regarding Coronavirus on their website which may be helpful.

Dealing with concerns and conflict

After working remotely for so long, it’s likely there will be some resistance in returning to the workplace from some people. It’s important that all concerns raised are taken seriously. There could be health concerns, childcare worries or general aversion to commuting and going back to the workplace every day.

It’s important to listen to all concerns raised and understand why your employees feel that way. A flexible working arrangement could be made, or it could be acceptable to continue working from home. If there is no valid reason for not wanting to return to the workplace and it isn’t feasible to work remotely, then disciplinary action should be considered.

Re-induction and training

Updating your training materials to include enhanced health and safety measures and infection control measures will help to ease your employees back to the workplace.

Spending time carrying out inductions with everyone will enable everyone to learn any new policies or procedures that have been implemented since Coronavirus started.

If you will be working with blended teams (remotely and in person), holding inductions digitally for everyone to attend will help teams get used to their new ways of working together. It will take time to settle in and iron out issues, but making sure everyone is involved and everyone has been given the same information and training will help to ease nerves.  

Last modified on 17 November 2022
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