Six months of managing the “new normal”

September 28, 2020

The end of September marks just over six months of dealing with the new realities of working during the coronavirus pandemic. Depending on your business, Government support may have been crucial or just merely useful. And with seemingly another six months of working remotely ahead of us, now is the right time to think about your business, your employees and how to help make sure both are working well all the way through until Spring.

Devoting some of your organisation’s time, energy and finances will pay dividends in the future. Based on what we have seen in the market after previous recessions/ market contractions, the most common reason that “good” employees give for leaving their employer is “the way I and my colleagues were treated when things were at the lowest”.

Below are some of the ways in which we are seeing organisations help their workforce and maintain a positive working environment.

1. Make use of the simple Government initiatives and tax breaks.

While most of the headlines have gone to the furlough scheme and its successor, the jobs support scheme, there are other ways in which the Government, via HMRC, has provided extra assistance.

a) Work at home allowance

One of the simplest is that, for anyone working part-time or full-time at home, a weekly fixed £6 “allowance” can be either paid or claimed by all directors and employees.

The most advantageous approach would be the payment of this £6 p/w (circa £26 p/m) by the employer, as it would be deemed a tax-free employee benefit – which would net the employee an additional annual payment of £312.

Alternatively, given that money may be tight in your organisation, employees can be encouraged to make a claim to HMRC directly (either via a self-assessment tax return or using form P87).

Whilst a claim for tax relief is not as generous to the employee, it is still a saving against tax for basic rate taxpayers (circa £60) and higher rate taxpayers (circa £120) – and therefore communication of its availability should be encouraged.

b) Tax free “working at home” benefits

Typically, if an employee purchases home office equipment and claims the expense back from their employer, then this would normally be a taxable benefit. However, for the current tax year (to 5 April 2021) home office purchases due to coronavirus can be made and reimbursed with no additional tax applying.

2. One-off thank you gestures

We are increasingly seeing organisations of all sizes deciding to make a one-off “thank you” award to their workforce – in particular when some/all of the workforce has been required to continue working, often in new and challenging circumstances.

Many of the people we are talking too are highlighting that even a seemingly small gesture like this is having a positive effect amongst their workforces – which has been particularly useful now that a “second lockdown” is starting to occur and people will need to work in often isolated conditions during the darker winter months.

Whilst any payment made (whether in cash or in kind, such as via vouchers) is still taxable, taking the time out to acknowledge the efforts and hard work of the workforce is likely to be a worthwhile investment in the business.

3. Helping people stay connected

Whilst the organisation of a video based “pub quiz” may soon be considered to be a new cliché by many, the opportunity for people to get together, even if it is remotely, will also undoubtedly grow in importance during the Autumn/Winter.

In addition to social activities keeping people connected, regular check-ins by peers and by line managers will be crucial. Opening lines of clear and honest communication within the organisation will help people feel connected and less isolated. Having these open communications should also help managers identify employees who, if left alone, may end up on long-term sick leave (which can be costly for the business).

Finally, early indications are that the “second lockdown” over the next six months will be less severe and will therefore still allow for some movements and meetings. Therefore, where the opportunity exists, and where it is permissible and safe to do so, consider encouraging those people who are “local” to each other to stay connected by more than just electronic means.

If you would like further information about the issues raised in this article or to discuss any questions you may have, please contact Stuart James.

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