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Returning To The Office: The Practicalities

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How should firms manage the return of their staff to the workplace?

The great working from home experiment is evolving. Earlier this month ONS revealed a whopping 46.6% of all people in full-time employment did at least some of their work from home during April. But with research showing 70% of colleagues miss informal face-to-face interactions, and a more a worrying 50% saying they feel isolated (Unipos's 'State of The Workplace Survey'), it's the gradual return to the office that is on the cards for many - with some permanently looking to adopt a hybrid strategy.

But in this 'new normal' post-lockdown landscape, getting staff back into long-vacated buildings isn't simply a case of flinging open the doors, and hoping for the best. 

To begin with there are very obvious practical health and safety measures to accommodate. These could potentially include: redesigning shared space - such as stairs as either up or down only, discouraging use of lifts; reconfiguring desks to be 'socially spaced', installing hand sanitizer stations throughout the building, removing hub-spaces that could encourage closer mingling, and having a rigorous attention to after-hours cleaning. All of these new measures must be communicated to employees and, for CEO’s, it’s going to be important to know who has read and acknowledged these ‘new normal’ policies.

But attention to health and safety is really just one aspect of returning employees to work. With strong data suggesting employees are fearful of the return, far greater attention is arguably needed around issues of communicating new working methods will pan out, including providing reassurance to those who might still feel vulnerable. 

According to the new McKinsey report ('Communications Get Personal'), post-COVID it's essential companies provide clear and inspiring communication about what people's new world of work looks like - including acknowledging people may have experienced grief, and mental health issues, or that a period of adaptation may be necessary and that this is OK. This also means firms need to set new expectations about how new ways of working might impact productivity. It's extremely likely staff will have over-worked while at home (the same ONS report suggests 30% of homeworkers have worked more than their designated hours), giving a distorted picture of output. Current objectives or key results may need to change, with appropriate goal management and measurement output ideally achieved through  technology and online insights to enhance productivity and communication.

It's possible too that employees could still catch coronavirus (new cases are still in the hundreds per day), which means needing to be able to declare themselves as self-isolating. Staff might also still have periodic episodes of any other kind of illness. One in ten people who have had COVID-19 report ongoing or recurring signs of ill-health including feeling cripplingly tired, being out of breath, dizzy or suffering from severe headaches. So it's vital firms don't just provide the means for people to come in, but they also have the supporting technology too for allowing sick leave to be recorded. Online absence management software, which is accessible from both work and home, allows for just this - notifying managers of potential absences such as working from home or showing symptoms,that might need to be known throughout the wider team or organisation..

IT infrastructure is especially important too as not all employees will be fully back, and not all managers will see their staff throughout the working week. Systems that flag up absences are vital. Appogee HR's reporting software, for instance tallies up absence data with precisely who is still working from home, to ensure those who are working remotely don’t feel out of the loop. 

Our cloud-based company documents repository technology allows managers to disseminate company documents - such as the new return to work framework - and request that staff acknowledge they've seen it. 

After spending so long away from their usual place of work - either because they've been furloughed, or have simply been working from a spare room (or kitchen table), returning to work will feel strange for staff. But with the right thought about the support staff and management needs, digitally transforming your HR can help make it smooth and the road to normality can at least be made a little less bumpy. 

To help support you in returning to work, Appogee HR offers several features such as absence management, reporting and company document management, which can help you organise the practicalities of returning your employees to the office. Why not request a demo today to see how we can help you? Alternatively, try us for yourself for 14 days absolutely free.