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The tool that you need to ensure a safe return to the office

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If you’re planning a return to the office full time, looking into the hybrid working model or if you want staff only back in occasionally, there’s a key tool that you need to ensure you can safely accommodate your staff.

When does short-term remote working become long-term? And should long-term then become permanent? Or is there a way to get staff back to the office? If there’s one thing that the coronavirus pandemic is doing, it’s causing some pretty uncomfortable workplace questions to be asked. And while the current lockdown prevents all but essential office-working right now, the fact is, lockdown will end at some point, and that means confronting the inescapable question of what the return to the office strategy should look like and how it should be managed.

It won’t be an easy task. Aside from the anxiety caused by the contagious virus, workers have got used to what was initially considered a temporary blip. As a recent poll by YouGov finds, amongst employees that didn’t typically work from home before the pandemic, 77% now say they like it, with 86% of those currently working remotely saying they would prefer to carry on this way after restrictions have been lifted. Such is support for no commuting, gaining renewed work-life balance (plus not having to worry about colleagues spreading illnesses), that in Europe, legislators are actively pursuing making the ability to work from home an employee ‘right’. This is bad news for employers who mostly take the opposite view – and which argue person-to-person proximity is better for innovation; for collaboration and to enrich all important company cultures.

The halfway house is the ‘hybrid’ office approach – part office, part remote. This month AXA announced it wants to combine remote work and office presence by offering employees the option to work remotely two days a week.

But with there also being the parallel trend for companies to reduce the amount of office space they need because of empty space home-working has created, it’s clear that getting people into less square feet means ‘capacity management’ will be the new people management skill needed. When there’ll no longer be enough desks (or enough room) for everyone to converge en-masse, solutions will be needed that allow for appropriate planning of who is in the building, why they’re there (for specific projects/outcomes?), and whether they’re safe to be there in this interim period where vaccine penetration is not universal.

So that staff are clear about when they are allowed in, and how many they can work with, it will be essential line managers group employees better by task/outcomes, and create ‘location plans’ as much as they do goal planning.  

Staff will need as much advance-warning as possible; information will be needed that says who was in the office should NHS track and trace notifications appear. This is for both employee reassurance as well as health and safety. Meanwhile remote workers also need accounting for where they are. Using a cloud solution to audit your office capacity is clearly a necessity. 

Seeing where staff are – including letting them book where they want to be – has to nowbe the ‘new normal’. For those employees who can’t easily work at home (for lack of space, appropriate set-up or distractions), employers who offer the haven of an office will benefit from the renewed engagement of those who have an alternative. 

Give employees the right to choose their locations, and it could well be that most still will naturally want to gravitate to an office anyway. Life might well be easier when the ‘commute to work’ is simply moving from the bedroom to the study; but many employees will still agree that they like the people they work with, and want to see them face-to-face. Yes, home working has become tolerated – and for many, even preferred – but given half the chance, many will still want to be with colleagues. Give them the tools to do it, and your return to work strategy could be easier than you might have thought.

Appogee HR’s new Time module includes Staff Location Recording and Office Capacity Management so you will always know who’s in the office and who’s working from home. Why not try this out for yourself with our 14 day free trial or book a demo with a member of our team.