For many companies and businesses today, the big question on their lips is what will the future of our workplace be? Do we just go back to the pre covid normal or do we take this opportunity to think again and change our plans? Many management teams will be faced with a reorganization to help manage the fall in revenue and shrinking opportunity to generate income – maybe even considering redundancy for some of their employees returning from furlough.
It seems to be easily forgotten that not all sectors have just had the option of moving their employees to remote or home working as the manufacturing, entertainment, and healthcare industries have wither had to carry on regardless face to face or simply shut their doors, furlough their staff and wait for the next government announcement about when they can open again. Of course, that is not the end of the issue – social distancing, restricted hours and access to “outdoor” spaces have left pubs, clubs, restaurants, and eateries for example doing the sums, considering their break-even and working out how to pay the minimum level of staff to enable their business to survive. These businesses need to consider so much more than whether they will have their workers back in the office or not and whether they should be planning redundancy support for their employees. These establishments need to review their entire business model, changing their service offering, adapting to the latest trends and opportunities relevant to their sector, in their town with their staff.
In professional services and office-orientated environments, it is deemed that working from home had a positive impact on productivity at the start of the pandemic the longer employees went without the physical interactions that come with an office, the deeper the impact on employee wellbeing and mental health. We know that offices and the workplace are important spaces for reflecting and emphasizing a company’s culture or brand. Without this physical meeting place, companies could become disparate collections of employees, who may work together but have little in common and without joint purpose. This outcome could be bad news for many things in the future from creativity to innovation and comradery in general, especially when you take the time to consider that for many employees, their working family is all they have, and work is their contact with the outside.
During the pandemic, those with remote or working from home options, have tried to sustain the informal aspects of work that drive creativity and teamwork, and whether this has been through virtual coffees or after-work Zoom quizzes, it has been very difficult to replicate authentic interaction in a remote setting. Offices and workplaces quite literally provide the space for these interactions and set the scene of support and comfort and productivity with no distractions – not to mention a destination or location to just simply belong to.
The never-ending debates, adverts, and discussions about meetings on zoom, technology, and teamwork are a concern for just part of the workforce. The hours saved on the commute to the office are relevant to some but not all. The dialogue is different for every industry and every type of worker and considering every variation in work experience is crucial – we all have the responsibility to think more widely than the small part of the working world that we occupy. Sourcing information, facts, ideas, and recommendations for how to manage any one of the future office debates should be high on any leadership agenda but often day to day “coping” is all there is time for. Taking a step back and recognizing the inadequacy of just coping is key and knowing when to ask for help by utilizing outsourced hr support might make the difference when making decisions about the “office” future. What does your office or workplace need to do to comply with the regulations and government recommendations, how do you appropriately consider whether having a vaccination policy is the right or wrong thing to do?
So, now the time has come to start thinking about “what next”, many businesses have been surprised and caught off guard by the “emotional” and strong reaction of many employees when they return to work question has been posed. Although HR Teams, business leaders, and managers have been thinking about the process and looking at the options from what is best for the business perspective, in many cases, they have lost sight of the fact that the employees and workers have not had time to adjust, consider and reflect.
Many workers have spent the last year and a half months adapting to their new way of working, whether at home using an ironing board as a desk, or in a workplace with socially distanced interaction with colleagues that they haven’t worked with before. Coming to terms with and getting to know a new cohort or team dynamic is hard at the best of times, but in these recent month’s employees have had to do this without the support of familiar surroundings and familiar colleagues. Different employee groups have faced different challenges and demands from each other and assumptions about home setups and situations have been made. Understanding that the office and workplace is a sanctuary for some staff should be considered – working from home without escape and dilution has been a huge burden for some. Line managers thinking about how to manage their team have a whole new perspective to accommodate – what circumstances do their staff have at home? Suddenly the working environment isn’t just the safe consistent office, it’s a collection of locations spread disparately with varying levels of stress, suitable working conditions, mixtures of people with varying demands needs, and distractions. Unpicking these complex scenarios and adjusting back to what went before will take longer for some than others, even if they are desperate to get back to their version of normality.
As employers start communicating and talking to their workers about the future whether, with the message that the office will never open again at one extreme or everything will be as it was before as the other end of the spectrum, one thing is certain. No organization will keep all of its employees happy and satisfied and all organizations will have to make compromises of some sort. As employees and employers alike come to terms with the new regimes and outcomes, whether now in the immediate term or the future, there will also be additional pressure and legislation that forces the world of commerce and ultimately the economy to adapt and manage the forthcoming changes regardless. Navigating these changes and regulations will have many businesses (especially those that are small or in niche sectors) seeking outsourced HR support to ensure they comply and get the messaging and outcomes right for their teams.
Having access to guidance on all aspects of the “returning to the office” process is beneficial and essential as to whether there are questions about getting redundancy support for your employees or how to manage flexible working requests – doing the right thing fairly and consistently will help support the next phase of working in the changed business world post the pandemic.
Nicky is Head of Organisational Change and HR Services at Connor. She has an extensive background that includes roles in Sales and Marketing, Procurement Consultancy, and HR business partnering.