Here are seven tips for getting your business ready for a return to the workplace.
1. Consult your team before you make a plan
There’s going to be less space available as people return to offices and it’s important to ensure that the space is being used by your people in the most productive way possible.
Every organisation is unique and priorities for one may differ from that of another. You need information to get this right and to get that information you need to start asking pertinent questions.
The first step is to undertake a consultation with your leadership and wider team. The key here, as with any consultation, is not to make any assumptions. Processes and team dynamics may have changed considerably during lockdown.
Your goal is to find out how your teams have been coping. What’s worked well for them? Where have there been challenges? And, importantly, what tasks and processes can your managers and teams not do from home.
2. Consider the needs of each employee
Having captured the broad picture through leadership consultations, you then need to drill down into the detail of each staff member’s specific requirements. The purpose of individual employee assessments is to establish each member as predominantly either home- or office-based.
Keep in mind that continued physical distancing means you may only have about 30% of your office space available. It’s crucial to ensure that those staff members that genuinely have a need to use the office are able to do so.
3. Redistribute the essentials
You then need to look at making adjustments that enable safer working conditions for those who continue to use home as their primary workplace. It would be beneficial to ensure those staff have a proper ergonomic setup.
I’m not suggesting that you have to open an account at IKEA and furnish staff with desks and task chairs. But, you should consider using equipment from the office and redistributing it to those that need it. If physical distancing means that a portion of your workstations will be unusable then why not use the kit from these desks?
4. Keep access open to all
Don’t assume that just because someone has elected to work primarily from home that it means they don’t ever want to come into the office. It’s important to recognise that home workers will probably want to spend at least some time in the office periodically to help strengthen their sense of community and belonging, if nothing else.
We conducted a survey back in April 2020 and found that the thing people miss most about not being in the office was exactly this. It’s the lack of connection and bonding, which occurs more naturally in the office environment. The office is still very much viewed as the essential cornerstone for fostering workplace culture and workplace relationships.
How do you manage this? Consider implementing an online booking system for usable desks and meeting rooms. Reserve some of your usable desks for predominantly office-based staff and then allow free booking on the remainder for occasional users.
5. Communicate and engage often
Once all the detail, strategy, and the post-lockdown operating model for your business has been established, you need to focus on communicating this properly. This should include clear protocols for working in the office, the use of meeting rooms, visitor policies, and specific COVID related emergency procedures.
Always remember that regular staff communications are just really important in general. There might be a few people in your organisation who have been completely immersed in this return to office strategy planning. But a lot of your workforce might be feeling isolated and in need of a bit of information. So, keep communicating properly. You can never go wrong with too much communication.
6. Stay resilient
We don’t know what we’re going to be hit with next.
You might have recurring cycles of staff being asked to self-isolate for 14 days at a time. If they’re able to work from home and they’re not symptomatic that might not be too difficult to handle. But if they’re key workers in the office environment, you need to have a plan for this. What happens if you have to shut the office quickly in the event of a localised outbreak within your premises? Are you able to move back with ease to mass home working?
You can spend time and resources on developing office and home working strategies, but you need to ensure you stay flexible and ready to adapt quickly in these changing times.
7. Don’t forget what makes a business thrive
Businesses thrive on innovation and continuous improvement. This is an ideal time to capture and develop opportunities to continue with best practices. Really delve into the things that have worked well, and don’t revert back to old ways. In all of this change, look for the positives.
Remember, achieving the optimal workplace is a continuous, iterative process regardless of a pandemic. So be agile. Be prepared to adapt quickly. And stay resilient in the face of change.