Returning to the office after lockdowns: what’s your plan?

For as long as most of us have been in the workforce, heading into the office every week day was a normal part of life. While we may have taken our work home with us every now and then, working from home was definitely the exception rather than the norm.

In 2020, this was turned on its head with the emergence of COVID and the rapid shift to remote working. Across 2 years, we adapted to working from home almost entirely – with new systems and processes implemented to support the change.

As we settle into 2022 with offices re-opening and cities starting to buzz again, many employers and employees have found themselves in a unique predicament. A sort of “hybrid” approach between office and remote working appears to be unfolding, with arrangements to work partially in the office and partially at home.

For company directors, finding the perfect balance in this hybrid approach really comes down to what will deliver the best result for their clients. Once this is determined, creating a concrete plan makes it easier to navigate this new paradigm and ensures everyone knows what to expect.

What should we plan for?

The opportunity to go back into the office and engage with colleagues is exciting for many people. But for some, especially those with health concerns, returning to the office is very unsettling.

Social distancing, sanitising and optional mask wearing are still important considerations for employers. The impact of desk distancing in terms of available office space may mean that hot desking and fluid layouts replace traditional workstations. Where space is an issue, we’ve seen some organisations adopt a roster-like approach with set office days and remote working days based on people’s preference or need to be on site.
With this in mind, we all need to be wary of accommodating individuals or teams who are working remotely. This includes technology (such as meeting room audio visual and security capabilities), but also etiquette.

We must remember to be conscious of people who are working virtually and may miss an important conversation, or find it difficult to see a presentation in a meeting or contribute their ideas.

No plan on returning to the office would be complete without a full review of technology. Most organisations will be seeking to get more value from the technology investments they’ve made over the past 18 months. So not only are new platforms likely to stay, but they may become foundational for all workers regardless of whether they’re in the office or at home.

This could require a commitment to more staff training, where individuals and teams learn how to fully utilise all available features in new platforms and software to maximise their productivity and efficiency.

A confident return to work

Careful assessment of individuals including their role, location, main activities, security requirements, and so on – as well as open communication and feedback – will all be key to maintaining quality service delivery as we explore a new hybrid between working from the office and at home.

Employees can also use new hybrid working arrangements to decide how they can be most productive. For example, people may select days to work from home where they minimise meetings and focus exclusively on getting important work done without distraction.

Whether a “return to work” plan evolves into new policies or simply forms the basis for a new type of collaborative workplace culture, mindfully moving into this new model will no doubt improve our chances of success.

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