Life after Lockdown – the return to the office
15th May 2020
Organisations have seen a seismic shift in the last few weeks when looking at the way employees interact and operate both internally and externally. Some herculean efforts have seen businesses set themselves up with new technologies and new ways of working as they adjust to remote working. The transition to homeworking or furlough was, and continues to be challenging however the task of restarting businesses will require strategic thinking, detailed planning and logistics to provide a safe and efficient workforce.
With restrictions on employees returning to their traditional workplace businesses need to consider both the risks and opportunities. While the Government are looking to ease restrictions for certain industries provided the necessary protection measures are in place, the advice remains to work from home if you can and employers should do all possible to support home working, but also enable access.
Ensuring the workplace environment can facilitate and maintain social distancing and safe working disciplines with a focus on reducing the movement and likelihood of cross contamination in the workplace. This may include dedicated working space, limiting of hot desks so individuals remain in designated areas with adequate distance between employees. Communal areas such as restrooms, canteen or beverage areas are likely to be restricted, use of such areas may need to be on a rota basis. Clear guidelines will need to be communicated and implemented, detailing employees’ own responsibility and consequence of non-compliance. For example, sanitise working areas prior to and after use. The necessary signage, PPE and consumables must be in place and readily available.
Consideration as to who should return to the workplace and on what basis is necessary. Employees homeworking or on furlough will have made significant changes to their working day. They will need to be given adequate time to put in place new arrangements such as childcare and support for vulnerable families and friends. Use of public transport or car share arrangements may be limited, new arrangements will be necessary which might mean travelling at non-peak times or moving to cycling or walking, the additional commute and potential unsocial hours will need to be considered.
Individual’s circumstances will need to be considered and where necessary personal plans will be required. A clear set of guidelines will be required to provide clarity and fairness of approach across the organisation. It may be necessary, due to space limitation to define new shift patterns, making sure that the right mix of people and skills to maximise the benefits of office working are on the same rota, this may mean rather than a functional group it’s a multi-functional team able to provide a range of skills and capabilities.
There is however a real opportunity to create a ‘New Norm’ that can be beneficial to all parties. A cultural shift that will redefine the expectations of the workforce and way they interact with their employer. Many professional service industries have been used to the necessity of remote working for some time, Covid 19 has required all sectors to embrace remote working. We now have a UK workforce that is trained and comfortable with the technology required to facilitate effective home working. There is a risk that companies will quickly revert to the old norm as quickly and the current change we’ve seen and these newly acquired skills will quickly be forgotten.
Supervisors and managers will require a different approach to ensuring effective home working. This will not come naturally for many traditional managers and training will be required. Rather than managing on an input task basis, managers will need to move to an output basis. Clear workload expectation will be required and online meeting skills will need to be consistent across the organisation. Deliverables, KPIs and timelines will need to be more real-time rather than weekly or monthly to optimise output and maintain homeworking motivation.
Incorporation of social interactions such as virtual tea / lunch breaks will help to provide structure to the day. The homeworking infrastructure will need to include all the considerations of onsite working and budgets will be required to ensure technology, internet and ergonomic office equipment are provided by the organisation to the remote worker.
Organisations are already running out of time, planning, training, communication, signage, PPE, consumables, work shift patterns, individual plans all need to be in place in preparation for a safe return to the workplace.
If the right infrastructure is in place there are significant homeworking benefits for both employees and employer. Reduced commuting time and costs allow for result in greatly improved productivity (especially if you are a working parent), working space requirements can be remodelled reducing overhead costs and flexible working can be individualised to help employees manage work life balance and wellbeing.