Back to the office during COVID – a guide
Are you going back to the office during COVID? Here is a quick guide by Lorraine Wrafter for businesses and mangers who may be facing the challenge of a return to the office.
No one imagined that we would end up working from home for nearly two years. The forced experience has had mixed results for people as well as businesses. We know some would love to continue to work remote forever, others can’t wait to get back to the office, and many want to go back to the office a few days and work from home the rest (i.e. hybrid/blended work).
What is consistently being said is that it will not be the same when we get back to the office. Short term, we will continue to wear masks*, regular testing, hand sanitisers everywhere, space between desks, limit the number of people in the building and meeting rooms. Long term, we are likely to have more hot desk working, flexible days/hours, and flexible locations.
Planning a return to the office after COVID
Big-name global companies are announcing daily the future work patterns. Many are advising hybrid/blended working, and others are back to full time in the office. Whatever you decide as a business needs to be thought through and make sense for your business rather than join the bandwagon. First, you need to review the last year and ask your leaders, teams and customers:
- What worked well during forced working from home?
- What did not work well?
- Productivity – did it go up, stay the same or go down? Look at any data you have captured and share
- What worked well that you want to continue when you go back to the office?
- What would they like to change when they return to the office?
Before you make any decisions
- Review your strategy. Does it change anything? Map out from product/service to the customer the process and identify people contact points. How will they work going forward? What works best in the office, and what can be done well remotely?
- Get feedback from the customer. What are their expectations? How will they work going forward?
- Ask employees what is their preferred working pattern making no promises. If you have employees that must be in the office every day, what flexibility/benefits can they be given? Make sure you avoid the unintended consequences of first and second-class employees.
- Model the different working patterns and work processes. Identify the positives and negatives of each and decide which will work best for the business.
- If the decision is made to do hybrid/blended work, who will decide on days in the office/home? The individual, leader, team, or customer. How often will it be reviewed to check how well or not it is working?
- Review and adapt communications, performance management, development, succession planning, and rewards to align with new work patterns.
- If you have a union or work council, make sure they are involved throughout the whole process.
There will be a few concerns
The idea of hybrid/blended working has many positives; however, there are concerns about managing it. Feedback and surveys say the areas that have been impacted negatively by remote working have been training new hires (graduates & trainees). These informal chats inspire ideas/solutions as well as spontaneous brainstorming and innovation. There is also concern that people working remotely may be overlooked for promotion, “out of sight out of mind”, particularly women, as there is an expectation that women may take up remote/hybrid working more than men.
Whatever you decide to do, manage expectations; there will be trials and errors, highs and lows. Be prepared that as much as people may be looking forward to returning to work, they may mourn ‘the good old day’s, give them space/time to mourn and show them the benefits of the new way of working.
*Assuming that people will have been vaccinated before or shortly after returning to work.*