A return to work roadmap for a post-COVID world
Amidst the many challenges of COVID-19, countless businesses large and small have discovered that a flexible working policy can and does work. But as the country begins to make sense of life in the post-Covid era, companies must assess what this new age means for the future of the workplace. Whether they choose to adopt a hybrid model, or promote a move back to the office full-time, a clear and structured staff re-onboarding programme will pave the way for future success, says Philip Walter, Chief Operating Officer of Leeds-headquartered Bailie Group.
There are a myriad of factors which will dictate an organisation’s approach to office working as we emerge from one of the most turbulent periods that business has ever seen. Companies will weigh up the benefits of continuing to invest in dedicated workspaces when, in many cases, teams have been maintaining a professional operation at minimal cost, from the comfort of their homes.
The pandemic has taken a negative toll on many, leaving employees at all levels with anxieties about the impact of returning to work — both in terms of their physical and mental health. While on the other hand, Chancellor Rishi Sunak raised his own concerns around the negative effect that home working is likely to have on younger professionals who need the experience and support that comes from co-working environments.
Balancing a whole host of individual needs has left companies reluctant to rush colleagues back in as they fine tune their processes to account for the many and varied worries of their teams – including among the C-suite. And while not all of these concerns can be remedied, they can certainly be eased with some careful thought and meticulous planning.
Here are some ideas for navigating this unprecedented situation and defining a positive and successful return to work roadmap for businesses large and small.
Treat returners as new starters
If staff have been away for a long time, many will feel unsure and unsafe. They will need to readjust to their surroundings and, as a result, will approach the office environment with fresh eyes. They may require a full re-induction on everything from what happens when the fire alarm goes off, to where to find pencils and paper clips.
Be prepared to action what’s likely to be a long list of requests for adjustments to individual workspaces – personnel are used to having their essentials arranged just how they like them, and there’s no ‘one size fits all’.
Hopefully by the time staff begin to return, the building will have undergone a deep clean, with perhaps some fresh décor and even a reconfiguration of room layouts – giving as much thought as possible to environmental sustainability, of course – to provide comfortable breakout and meeting spaces.
Staff retention is likely to be an issue for many firms in the months ahead and it really is a case of first impressions count — allocating the time and budgets required to make reasonable adjustments to ensure the comfort and wellbeing of colleagues will be an investment worth making.
Involve everyone in changes
During lockdown many people have been rethinking their futures, considering long-held hopes and dreams. Being back with their old team, and perhaps in some cases the same old irritations, might not be top of their wish-list.
What can you do to make employees see their role anew, and fall in love with it again? It costs time and money to travel to work, so what will make them excited to be back? What is the benefit to them, in comparison with staying at home?
The answer to this will depend on the company culture and your workforce profile in general but a complete overhaul of things like perks, teambuilding and social opportunities could help – alongside improving the vibrancy and comfort of the general office environment with new sofas, perhaps some carefully selected artwork, and even a little greenery.
It’s crucial that your vision for change is sustainable, properly consulted upon and communicated. Build in opportunities for all colleagues to have their say, at every stage – ideally before they set foot in the office, if there’s still time.
Retain some flexibility
There is no doubt that, for some, home working wasn’t a positive experience. And anxieties aside, many will relish some return to normality with conversations by the watercooler, high-energy meetings and face-to-face support bolstering their wellbeing.
But for others, the freedom to work from home has revolutionised their way of life — cutting out the endless commute, improving work/life balance and allowing them the headspace needed to tackle some of those trickier tasks that prove a challenge in a bustling team atmosphere.
For most businesses, an element of office working is likely to be desirable but figuring out where some flexibility can still exist will be vital to welcoming back a team of individuals who feel engaged, appreciated, and listened to.
Give and take is likely to be a more prominent feature of workplaces moving forward, and if you aren’t willing to make reasonable compromises to ensure the happiness of your employees – the chances are that someone else will.
Think about moving
Now might not be the time to make permanent decisions about your company’s future home, but you could certainly consider, say, three different scenarios and monitor them, ready for when working patterns and preferences settle down.
In the longer term, is your location suitable? Would a reboot in a fresh, eco-conscious building, for example, help energise your teams for the challenges ahead?
Planning ahead for all possibilities will put your company in a well-researched and considered position to act, when the time is right.
So, in conclusion, an all-round special effort is needed – with attention to personnel, buildings and ways of operating – to make sure re-onboarding goes smoothly.
Even the smallest of changes can go a long way in improving the wellbeing and engagement of colleagues, who will bring this newfound enthusiasm with them to the task at hand.
This year is truly the start of a new era – and what firms do now will pave the way for future success.
- Employees returning after a period of home working should be re-onboarded to ensure they are happy and comfortable returning to the office environment
- Employers should retain some flexibility so that workers who want to continue working remotely can do so, at least for part of the working week
- For more information about how to make the return to office working a success, head over to the UMi platform: https://www.weareumi.co.uk/webapp/running-a-business/building-a-great-business/