Getting back to the office

Companies across the world have rapidly adapted to the many complexities of running a business in a global pandemic.

Through a stream of unprecedented challenges, businesses have tackled the roadblocks thrown up by the pandemic by moving their work, communication channels and entire company online. For those minority of companies that have been allowed to continue their daily commute into the workplace, they’ve spent time and money making sure the environment conforms to social distancing guidelines and that there is an abundance of sanitation stations and masks.

With the rollout of the vaccination programme well underway in the UK, businesses are hopeful that soon we can go back to some semblance of normality, but what does it look like and how can we make sure that when it’s time, we’re ready to get back to the office?

Outline your flexible work policies

Despite our best laid plans to get people back to the office, it’s important for companies to really look at their flexible working policies in case of any future setbacks. Some of the biggest companies such as Spotify, Amazon, Shopify and Facebook have already spoken out about their decision to move the majority of their workforce into remote working full time, despite hope that the worst of the pandemic is over with.

Companies should spend this time deciding where they stand on remote working and whether they will offer previously on-site teams flexibility going forward. Weighing up the pros a cons is a great conversation starter with the executive team and asking your colleagues what their preferences are is a great way to improve engagement and get them bought into the return to work, whatever it may look like.

Safety first

It’s important to recognise that no matter when people begin to return to the office, it will be a legal requirement to put safety at the forefront. This means making a phased return, depending on the amount of employees you have and having all COVID-19 safety procedures in place ahead of the return.

If you have an open plan office, pop barriers or screens in where you can and ensure that each desk is two metres apart. Ensure that you have a walkway system that avoids unnecessary crowding and signage around to remind people to social distance, sanitise regularly and wear a mask.

You may want to implement regular COVID testing for those that must be on-site and make sure you have a robust procedure in place should anybody begin displaying symptoms or test positive.

Communication Strategy

Reacclimatising an onsite workforce that have been working remotely for so long will present a massive change management challenge. Having a clear, concise and regular communication strategy will not only be a great help in implementing any new policies, procedures and rules, but will also increase colleague wellbeing, clearly demonstrating what comes next and taking them on that journey with you.

Having a great communication strategy will enable colleagues to raise their concerns and identify any issues that may have been missed, enabling real, genuine two-way communication and leveraging the disruption into a way to strengthen culture, productivity and loyalty for the foreseeable future.

Be flexible

While everyone is longing for a bit of stability, routine and normality, the pandemic has highlighted the need for businesses to be agile and ready to respond to a change of plan at a moment’s notice.

When setting out your return to work strategy, it’s important to take into account who you’re bringing back in, making sure business-critical roles take priority. It may make sense and help with the safety aspect if colleagues in jobs with little drop-off in productivity continue remote working to reduce onsite headcount and reduce risk.

For every colleague that returns to the office, it’s key to have a contingency plan in place in case they need to be sent home or they display symptoms. Contingency plans are a great idea all around, preparing for every eventuality, such as a new wave or lockdown.

Don’t plan too far ahead and make sure you have a COVID task team that meet regularly to negate the negative impact of any potential changes.

So, no matter what’s to come, it’s never too early to begin planning for the long-awaited and anticipated return to the office. If you don’t know where to start, The HR Consultants can support you on an ad-hoc, project based or retained basis to support you on everything from furlough and redundancies to communication and engagement.

Get in touch today to see how we can help your smooth transition back into the office.