Return to Work: How to Plan Your Company’s Return to the office…

The return to work program has started across Australia (well, particularly those Eastern states who have been under strict lockdown and other COVID restrictions).

Getting back to the office may seem like an unnecessary turn of events for many people. Why?

  • We’ve been productive working from home…
  • We’ve had two years of getting set up and used to remote working…
  • We’re more efficient. We’ve saved time on commuting and are subsequently more productive…

At a state government level, the key issue here is this: a thriving capital city economy is dependent on an active and fully functioning CBD. At a company level, reasons for a return to work may include:

  • It will enable you to re-establish a stronger company culture after two years of remote working
  • It will reunite workers, into a more collaborative, cohesive productivity engine
  • There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that working in the office is better for worker’s wellbeing
  • Colleagues working together, inspires innovation, creativity and fresh ideas

So, if your business is on the return to work pathway, here are the key factors you need to consider for a smooth re-entry to office life (keeping in mind, we’re not yet – and may never be – back to the pre-COVID days of office working).

return to work

A Changed Work Environment

  • Adjust the physical workplace to allow for distancing between workers
  • Plan for collaborative spaces and hotdesking
  • Provide technology to support hotdesking for hybrid workers
  • Stagger the reopening of new offices, floors and rooms

A report from UNSW Canberra, suggests workers are seeking a hybrid model of office and remote working.

Associate Professor Sue Williamson, lead author of the report, suggests that we will see other ways of working emerge, with employees meeting up for collaborative or creative work, for example.

A New Return to Work Tempo

  • Determine the teams to come back first, and gradually add others in time
  • Determine the people and teams who can work a hybrid – work/home – model
  • Ensure there are manager/s present to support the transition to return-to-work
  • Factor in those workers who are best positioned to continue remote working

Employee Wellbeing

  • We’re still living with COVID, so be mindful that some workers won’t feel safe coming to the office, and accommodate them accordingly
  • Establish protocols for frequent, thorough cleaning of common areas
  • Provide a ‘welcome back’ pack for workers, with clear communications about what they can expect, and how the business supports a gradual transition to ‘normal’ office life
  • Offer meal incentives for the initial return-to-work period

Communication is Key

  • Communicate your game plan for a return-to-work: including gradual roll-out, hybrid options and timings
  • Maintain updates on changes to the workplace: new floors opening up, new teams returning
  • Offer personal check-ins and one-on-one meetings with managers under the return-to-work structure. Ensure people feel cared for

Be Realistic

  • The transition from home to 8 hours in the office will be tough for some workers
  • ‘Normality’ of office working (ie pre COVID days) will take time. It won’t be immediate
  • Staff will be more fatigued in their first week back: and that’s okay
  • Encourage staff to take regular mini breaks: go for a walk, get fresh air, grab a coffee

A Pulse Survey by PwC uncovered the following:
72% of employees are willing to Wear masks around colleagues/customers
70% would let their employer take temperature
58% agree to employer provided COVID testing
54% would provide proof of vaccination in order to work on-site

The return to work process will raise unforeseen hurdles. Most managers and workers haven’t experienced lengthy remote working periods, followed by a return to the office: uncertainty, insecurity and doubt will inevitably ensue. But, if you have a robust game plan, supported by a thorough communications strategy, your company will achieve a successful reintegration back into office life.

If you would like to discuss the factors involved in your company returning to the office, please feel free to reach me here. I look forward to speaking with you.