The last 15 months must have seemed like a chaotic whirlwind for many businesses up and down the country, but it must be said that the Covid-19 pandemic has created a range of specific issues for smaller businesses, none more so than that of their employees’ work locations and the inevitable return to office question.
At the time of writing, the current Government guidance is that office workers should continue to work from home where they can, but this blog will touch on the issues that will no doubt be in the spotlight as the offices begin to open back up once restrictions allow.
Whilst ever-increasing broadband capabilities and advancements in technology have enabled more home working (remote working) possibilities than ever before, nevertheless, many SMEs may still wish to return to face-to-face working environments where they believe this will help the growth of their businesses and perhaps help foster a heightened sense of team spirit and collective organisational culture.
Other SMEs will sense the Covid 19 pandemic has led to a shift change in their structural dynamics for the good, and may wish to harness elements of their new way of working to boost growth going into the future. It is said that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ and at no time have we seen this more than since Covid 19 pandemic first hit these shores. We have seen impressive levels of adaptability and ingenuity throughout, particularly in sectors that have been hard hit by stop-start restrictions, and often it has been this ability to adapt that has been the key to survival.
From an employee’s point of view, it may be that they have been able to manage their workload effectively during the pandemic by working from home (remote work), but they perhaps miss the colleague interaction and social side of office life and are eagerly awaiting their chance to reconnect.
Equally, it is inevitable there will be employees that have much preferred working from home and do not relish a return any time soon to rush hour traffic, packed tube trains, and office politics! Or, perhaps they have very good personal reasons to continue working from home that their employers would be well advised to take into consideration when putting plans into place.
What will office life be after the pandemic?
We cannot predict this but just as no two businesses are identical, the same can be said for employees; everybody has their own prism through which they view the pandemic and the workplace changes that have come along with it.
What should companies do now?
With the above in mind, some of the key facets of the return to office question are those such as communication and engagement. To this end, it would be a sensible idea to consider kicking off with a workplace questionnaire (this can be anonymous) to canvass your employees’ general views on how they feel their work output can be optimised once the office is reopened. This could include gathering staff input on workplace location issues, together with other related topics such as input on supporting IT infrastructure, core office hours, hybrid work options, work patterns, social distancing rules, flexible working, and any travel issues that may arise, etc.
According to a recent PwC survey
of 32,000 participants from 19 countries, more than 70% of people want to slipt their post-pandemic time between in-person and remote working.
Likewise, it would be helpful to make time for one-to-ones with any members of your staff who have specific concerns or particular personal factors that may have a bearing on workplace choice. The better the level of employee engagement and buy-in across the business as regards the decision-making then the better the overall outcome is likely to be.
At times like this, it is also of vital importance that as a business you communicate the rationale behind your decision-making. For example, if you decide as business that your employees should return to the office full-time, then it is sensible to state the business reasons why this is preferred. Your staff may not always agree with all your decisions, but it is likely they will respect you as an employer for making the time and effort to explain things. Similarly, although forward planning can be particularly challenging at present, your employees are also likely to appreciate as much notice as possible once decisions are made, so that they can plan and prepare their work and home lives accordingly.
As with many aspects of employment, an environment of fairness and transparency will go a long way and will help you to avoid issues that otherwise may well arise.
There are many things that as an employer you can do to protect your employees and your business.
Book a no-commitment 15-minute call to discuss your post pandemic return to office issues and get the legal support you need.