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The return to work: Be safe and feel safe

(Image credit: Image Credit: Firma V / Shutterstock)

Returning to work can seem like a minefield of potential mishaps, for both employees and employers. The ultimate goal is to create a safe space which your employees will want to be in. Achieving this is not only potentially life-saving but also business saving as it can help better retain talent, increase productivity by putting minds at rest and ultimately offer a much-needed advantage of your competitors. Healthy and happy employees lead to a healthy, happy business.

The question is, how do you start to make your office a safer environment for the inevitable return to work? Well, we at Ricoh UK think there are several things you can begin to address in your plans which should help smooth out the whole process. From continuing to embrace technology and push for more specific digital transformation, to initiating an open and honest dialogue with employees and listening and acting on their concerns; these are the ways you will help your employees to be and feel safe, so you can get back to the office and pick up the projects and plans which have been on hold.

Returning to the office

Like any project, you can’t dive in headfirst you need to come up with a detailed and well thought out plan. Returning to work will affect people’s lives in more ways than one, and you should be demonstrating that your business doesn’t do this lightly.

As such, set up calls with managers or share anonymous surveys but you need to get to the root of employee worry and find out if they are as ready to go back to the office as you are. If not, what’s the reasoning and can it be fixed? Asking these questions will give you a comprehensive overview of the entire picture so that you can create a bespoke and actionable plan.

Beyond encouraging face masks to be worn, implementing one-way systems and Perspex screens, organizations should be investigating the technologies they can deploy to increase safety.

This doesn’t have to be the expensive and futuristic technology some are using, like using thermal imaging which takes core body temperature from the person’s tear duct. It can be anything from a simple desk booking system to ensure people self-certify before attending the workplace, remaining socially distant at desks, and providing contact tracing to allow people to get tested, isolate and prevent ongoing transmission.

As you’re no doubt aware, collaboration is the key to unlocking innovation, so it’s essential to set up an environment where people can collaborate safely and effectively. This is another aspect f the office where technology can save the day. Blue light, UV light and fogging can deep clean surfaces and buildings; booking systems can ensure contact tracing is possible, and occupancy sensors can manage people clustering.  Having these things in place are great ways to both protect your employees and show them while also teaching them that you’re doing you’re a bit. This visibility is likely to go along way at allaying their concerns.

Feeling safe within the office

Demonstrating to your employees, you are taking your duty of care seriously by utilizing relevant technologies will ensure your people feel safe.

When we talk about the link between technology and mental health, many focus on the negatives; social media, depression and inauthenticity are all terms we’ve come to associate with one another. However, technology is a powerful tool in supporting mental health. It has the power to soothe people due to its efficiency, accuracy and strength so having your technology driven by a people-centric force will quickly create an environment that employees feel safe in and are happy to remain.

If you can demonstrate a commitment to your employee’s health, they will dig deep for your business.  The two need to work in harmony, and a half-hearted and isolating environment is expected to drive employees elsewhere or remain and be disengaged.

Remaining in the office

To make an environment people want to stay in, the technological investments you make should also be an investment in your future. Not something you’re preparing for the short-term but something which should align with your values and the direction of your company.

For instance, if you were trying to promote flexible working, now is the chance to implement it more consistently. Aim for half your team to be in the office and half at home will allow flexibility to your employees, but it might also mean your safe space in your office. You are making it easier to seat people safely without investing in a larger office, and the costs which would incur with a move. 

When I talk about aligning with values, the hottest and most significant trend at the start of the year and end of 2019 was sustainability. Every week it seemed another business was pledging to go carbon neutral. This was a huge step and something we’ve strived for in our own business. Covid-19 has become all-encompassing, but it doesn’t mean other issues have vanished. We’re already seeing face masks washing up in the ocean and Perspex screens being bought by the truckload, but what happens when a vaccine is found - where will it all go? If sustainability were essential to your organization in January, it would be again, so look at the ways technology and the process can work together to prevent damaging the hard work we’ve already done. Ultimately, we still need to be aware of the ecological impact our business decisions are having.

Ultimately, your employee safety should be your top business priority, and employing innovative technology is the best way to achieve this without side-lining any other goals you may have, or still do have. We need to create environments where people feel safe and trusted to be responsible and do their jobs, to protect your employees and your business bottom line.

Simone Fenton-Jarvis, Workplace Consultancy Director, Ricoh UK (opens in new tab)

Simone Fenton-Jarvis is Workplace Consultancy Director at Ricoh UK. Simone’s belief that organisations need to put people first, drives her strategies.