Freedom Day 19 July has been and gone. Although the legal requirement to work from home was removed in England, the Government is recommending a gradual return to the office and is still expecting the majority of people to work from home for the rest of the summer. This gives employers time to work on their approach for a return to a safe, productive and enjoyable workspace.
So, what should companies consider as they once again welcome staff to the office? However frequently or infrequently staff intend to come into the office, what will make those times a very positive experience?
Consultation with workforce
Above all, it will be important to engage with staff to gauge their feelings. Many employees have been largely away from the office for 12 months or more; new employees may have never been to the office. Some staff are anxious about returning to the office, while others are desperate to escape the confines of home and get back with friends and colleagues.
Employers are advised to consult with employees on what they might want to see when they come back into the office. What will their priorities be and what concerns do they have? Staff surveys are a simple but effective means of gathering real insights into the needs and wants that exist regarding workspace.
The practices that support new norms
A recent CIPD report shows that some 40% of employers expect more than half their workforce to work regularly from home, post-pandemic. Many employees will be coming back to hybrid working – part office-based, part home-based. A variety of practices can enter into managing this new and different approach to work.
Space sharing: An increase in remote working will mean less desk space is required, so effective desk sharing is important. Rather than hot desking, where many different people use the same desk, Government Covid guidelines recommend that only two or three people use the same desk, and this needs clear coordination.
Team rotation: One way of maintaining cohesiveness in teams is by simple team rotation. For example, Team A would occupy a space on Monday and Tuesday, while Team B would use it on Wednesday and Thursday. Fridays are likely to be quieter and more flexible and perhaps an opportunity for interaction between teams.
Change management: Not everyone will adapt easily to these changes, and line managers will need to apply change management principles – listening to feedback from team members is just as important as giving them updates and information. The more people are involved in any change, the more readily they will buy into it.
Leadership Training: Managers will arguably have to do a bit more managing in the new order of things if teams are to retain cohesiveness and stay on track. Now may be a good time for refresher training on topics such as active listening, effective communications, and positive leadership.
Things will never be the same again, but that’s exciting
What is clear is that we cannot rule out another pandemic and the need for infection control.
Many employees will move to hybrid working: a mix of working from home and going into the office. This means that the office will become a destination where there’s high energy and purpose, not just a place where people are required to be.
Building in regular social and human connection opportunities to support employee engagement and team cohesion will be more important than ever. Office space will need to be modern and flexible, where everything just works. Layout design will need to subtly reflect the desire for distance without hindering the need for collaboration.
The way we work has very likely changed for ever. Progressive employers will be looking ahead and thinking how they can embrace these changes and turn them into positives. The pandemic can be viewed as having positively accelerated needed change in flexible working and use of technology, and that’s one good thing that has resulted from it.
Nevertheless, the importance of human connection, in-person, is as strong as ever. Having that coffee and a chat with a colleague will hopefully be something we all make more time for. Offices most definitely have a future when they act as a destination. A destination that is safe, inviting and simply a great place to be!
Make contact to request a consultation on ‘Return to work’ strategies, including staff engagement and workspace changes.