Article by Julie Lock, commercial director at Mitrefinch
The coronavirus pandemic has forced change upon businesses across the UK; closing down office spaces and instead, telling employees to work from home for the foreseeable future – something that many companies had never trialled before.
A proposed law could now make it illegal for bosses to force staff back to their desks, dividing the debate further on flexible working. Some business owners argue that home working prevents creativity and innovation while the workplace, they suggest, allows for focus and interaction amongst staff. Now the end of lockdown is in sight and all coronavirus restrictions are set to lift from July 19, how can employers plan ahead to prepare for a future workplace, post-pandemic?
Despite its challenges, the coronavirus pandemic has taught businesses that a new way of work is possible; employers can offer a more flexible work setup that exists outside of the typical 9-5 office day. Whilst many employees have embraced the flexibility that remote working offers, others are still keen to return back to the office, having missed the social aspect that’s been replaced by Zoom and the clear work-life divide.
Businesses must set-out a balanced return to work to have a competitive advantage – otherwise staff will be sure to look elsewhere for employment. After more than a year of working from home, many employees will hope for a similar kind of flexible working once all restrictions have been lifted.
To help make a decision on transitioning employees back to the office, here are some factors for business owners to consider:
Create a gradual and flexible return to the office
The upcoming months are critical for businesses. Before welcoming employees back to the office again, careful planning will be required well in advance to avoid any serious mistakes being made. After a year full of uncertainty and anxiety for most, a strategy that clearly outlines the next steps must be communicated to support (not restrict) all employees.
Employees should not feel a sudden pressure to return to the office as soon as the lockdown is lifted. Instead, a phased approach will be more beneficial to all – giving companies more time to prepare the office so it’s safe, whilst ensuring that staff are not overwhelmed by another sudden change.
Ensure clear communication and regular updates
A return-to-office plan should be communicated to all employees at the company to ensure that they are fully prepared for the next phase. The plan should address any concerns that employees may have, and lay out safety measures that should be followed in the office (e.g. air ventilation, mandatory mask wearing and capacity limits), as well as a company protocol to follow if any employee tests positive for Covid-19.
Focus on mental health and wellbeing support
HR leaders and management can play an active role in supporting the mental wellbeing of their employees at work. Ensuring that mental health is not overlooked in the workplace will reflect a culture that values their employees. In turn, this support will help to address any stressors and will lead to a much healthier business as a whole.
Prioritise team bonding
After a year of working in isolation and being away from co-workers, many employees have missed the social interaction from the office. To improve upon staff morale and build positive relationships, social events should be organised outside of the workplace.
Following these steps will ensure that all employees feel safe, supported and focussed on their return to the workplace. Effective communication and planning with seamless technology will determine the future of work post-pandemic, and placing the employee at the heart of the decision-making is vital to its success.
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