Many organizations are looking at how they safely return to the office. While a number of high-profile businesses, including Twitter, Facebook, Schroders and PWC, have announced that employees can work indefinitely from home, others are considering how they re-integrate workers while following new health and safety regulations.
It is not simply a case of putting up plastic barriers between desks and adding a bit more hand sanitizers. As well as needing to have in place measures to respond quickly and proportionately if office-based workers fall ill, employers also must contend with the feelings of their staff on returning to work. For those with children there are childcare concerns, while many are also hesitant about using public transport again.
Then there’s those that have found remote working enormously beneficial. While it may not be for everyone long-term, taking a blanket return-to-office policy is likely to lead to significant disengagement.
So, what’s the answer? It depends very much on the organization and how it operates, but for many, taking a more hybrid approach could be a solution. This would see businesses move to a mix of on-site and virtual workers, with capacity for the latter to visit offices when necessary.
Another option could be to refit offices as places of collaboration, where employees visit specifically for meetings and events, but otherwise work wherever they chose. This would ensure that the flow of visitors would be clear each day, with arrangements made to ensure their visit was both safe and productive.
Whichever way organizations chose to go, they will need to consider a number of factors in order to return to the office safely, without disrupting business productivity.
Be clear on who will be where, when
The days of assuming people will turn up are over. In order to manage a return to the office, businesses need to be clear on who will be working in the office, and when. It’s as important from a health and safety perspective (and having the office set up in line with local guidelines) as it is from an operational continuity point of view.
Invest in technology to support multiple ways of working
A return to the office is unlikely to be permanent, with the possibility of many employees wanting to work from home on some days and onsite for others. This means a shift away from the majority of workers being based onsite, and data being shared externally from a limited number of points. Now, the technology the business uses and equips employees with needs to be able to support multiple ways of working, and in particular deal with multiple remote endpoints and devices wanting to connect and access data. It’s also an opportunity to keep employee equipment up to date with the latest, most secure apps and services.
Use time in office to supercharge your team
Leading on from this is a point about getting the most from time in the office. While the temptation will be to use it for meetings, catch-ups, administrative check-ins and updates, employees will want to know that the commute and hours away from their homes are worthwhile. Employers should be looking at how they can use face-to-face time to reconnect with individuals. It could well be that virtual silos have started to develop – getting people into the office, even only for an hour or so every week, can help break those, and keep everyone feeling included and valued. This is as much about employee engagement as it is about operational efficiency – if you require workers to come into the office, but then do nothing with them, they’ll feel like they’ve wasted time that could be better spent working at home.
Making the right choices with shrinking budgets
When the pandemic first hit and offices closed, decisions were made that were more focused on continuity than security. Now, as it becomes clear that the only certainty is uncertainty, businesses need to put in place the infrastructure that will properly support secure working, irrespective of location. That includes deploying messaging and collaboration apps that are enterprise-grade secure, rather than the easy-to-use, freemium consumer services that saw a boom in use in the early months of the pandemic. No matter what they claim, they lack the true end-to-end encryption that businesses need to protect data and avoid ruinous security breaches.
This all needs to be done at a time when cash flow has been restricted and budgets will be tight. Therefore, it’s vital that businesses prioritize, and focus on how they get their core operations securely collaborating, irrespective of where workers are.
Know your teams, and deploy them appropriately
If restrictions mean office capacity is going to be limited, see it as an opportunity to offer your teams a way of working that suits them. Employees will have reacted differently to working remotely – some will have embraced it, others hating it. Give them the choice of where they want to work and support them appropriately. Invest time in creating the right culture that enables a mix of virtual and onsite working, and means that wherever people work, they feel included, valued and supported.
Audit your facilities, and identify productivity pinch points
You need to know your physical space, and what life post-Covid-19 means for it. How do your employees get into the office? Do they have to wait for lifts or squeeze through narrow stairwells? Once they’re onsite, do they have access to multiple toilet and catering facilities, or are a handful of locations shared between hundreds of people? This is just about keeping things clean and avoiding unnecessary contact with others, important thought that is; it’s about how disengaging it could be for employees simply to access their place of work. If new restrictions mean you’ll be adding 15 minutes to the beginning and end of each working day, it may be time to consider how you use your office space and how you want your employees to work.
Going back to the office can be a major opportunity to boost employee morale, as it heralds a return to a degree of normality. But it’s also an opportunity to redefine what working means and where it takes place. Don’t slip back into old ways of working – not only will businesses alienate workers, but new restrictions will mean old processes cause friction and hamper office-based productivity. Instead look at how the right mix of technology, coupled with an empathetic deployment of employees and use of office space, can build a working environment that works for both individuals and the overall business.
Francois Rodriguez, Chief Growth Officer, Adeya