Platform Group's director, Krishna Money, discusses five considerations to keep in mind as people return to the workplace
Words by Krishna Money
For many who operate out of offices, the recent outbreak of COVID-19 has meant a rethink of working practices, in order to protect the health and wellbeing of the workforce. There will likely be a gradual return to the workplace over the next few months, and although this will undoubtedly vary by business activity, size of organisation and existing infrastructure, there are some common themes worth considering…
This is probably the first thing that springs to mind, as we have all been bombarded by social distancing advice for nearly two months. There are some obvious measures that can be taken; for example, furniture suppliers are already bringing a huge range of products to market including screens between desks, mobile partitions, work pods and other physical divisions.
However, unless your usual (pre COVID-19) working day consisted of sitting at an individual desk with no meeting participation, use of collaboration, or social spaces, then physical screening will need to be part of a wider strategy to be effective. There is also the question of how much businesses can afford to invest, given the hit to finances they are likely to have taken since February. Physical separation is likely to be part of the solution, but should be planned in conjunction with other measures.
Many organisations have spent time and money over the past few years to ensure that their working environment supports and reinforces their company culture. If you’ve done so, this may include shared spaces to encourage collaboration, social spaces around tea points and places to meet over lunch or hold events after work. Offices may have areas of shared hot desking and touchdown zones; project based working and project break out rooms have been encouraged in many office environments.
None of these ways of working supports social distancing, or good surface hygiene to avoid virus transmission. Careful consideration should be given to how people can interact in the office in a safe and positive way. Company culture is important, and it’s worth thinking about how the best elements of the way you used to work together can be re-invented and facilitated for the short and medium term. Be clear with staff why ways of working have changed in the context of current health and safety requirements.
Wellbeing as a basic minimum means ensuring that staff have an environment that is safe to work in (in this case, which minimises the risk of infection). But the reality is that however safe you make the workplace, travelling to the office and spending the day with people who aren’t part of your household is going to increase the chances of exposure. So be sensitive to anxieties and requests to continue home working; understand that some members of staff may have vulnerable or at-risk family members at home. Aside from a duty of care, the distraction of feeling unsafe won’t contribute to focused and productive work.
We don’t know yet what measures are going to be imposed or advised from central government over the coming months. Be ready to adapt and change, and as far as possible prepare for a cyclical process of relaxation and tightening of rules. If you’re asking people to work in different ways, make sure they are provided with the tools to do so, and keep them informed on why changes are being made. Think about staggering start and finish times, or splitting up the working week. Also, consider different ways of working in the future irrespective of the current crisis. It’s likely there’ll be some changes that are worth taking forward so be open to embracing these – it would be nice to have some positive outcomes.
Probably the most important thing to get right is communication. We used to see our colleagues every morning (or most mornings), so why wouldn’t we all have a give minute Teams call from home to start the day, see how everyone is, and find out what they did at the weekend? We’ve done this, but some people I know have had virtual radio silence since mid-March…emails and messaging don’t really count. As we return to work, keep people included in, or at least informed of, the decision-making process; stay connected with anyone who remains working from home. It continues to be an anxious time and keeping everyone informed and connected is the least we can do.
The next few months will hopefully see everyone returning to normal, but a different normal than we have known before. Continuing to ensure the welfare of our businesses will be the key to success – as long as it's in a way that enables us to keep our staff healthy while still operating our businesses effectively and profitably.
Krishna Money is the Director of multi-disciplinary experience design agency, Platform Group