The (Partial) Return to Work

James Caldecott
July 12, 2021
The (Partial) Return to Work

An insight into how returning to work post-pandemic might look far different to that which we first imagined...

In March 2020, the UK went into full lockdown. It was, as we now know, only the beginning of what has now seen a seismic shift in the way we live and work, and the precarious balance between the two which all at once became even more complex and entwined.

Fortunately, businesses are now opening their doors again and office spaces will, albeit gradually, be shared between colleagues once more. But what might the mid-to-long term future of the office and work situation look like? And importantly, how do your people feel about it? It’s currently a topic of much discussion within HR departments and should be a high priority to you too.

The general consensus

While some organisations may still be hoping for a full return to the traditional 5 days a week model, a select few may instead be considering the new found benefits of operating a permanent work from home situation for their employees. Twitter, for example, ahead of the curve, announced as far back as May 2020 that their staff could work from home forever, if they so wish.

However, the likelihood is that most will sit somewhere in the middle with a hybrid working pattern. Indeed, many businesses expect hybrid working to become their norm. According to a BBC poll, 43 of the biggest 50 employers in the UK said they would be embracing a mix of home and office working.

According to a recent study by Voxeu, the most favoured approach - by around 40% of office workers - appears to be in line with 2-3 days a week in the office and the rest of the days at home, or similar variations of a certain number of days permonth in the office.

Indeed, auditing firm Deloitte have recently announced that they intend to embrace flexible working permanently. With 20,000 employees, this is a significant move and indicates how the pandemic has accelerated a shift in how, when and where we work.

Nevertheless, even if the number of days in or out of the office have been clearly defined, there will still be numerous other areas that will require clarifying. For example, will this hybrid option be available to all staff or only certain roles? What is the precise definition of hybrid for your company? Does it mean employees must be at home when not in the office, or do they have the freedom to work from wherever they choose? Will people be maintaining a 9-5 work pattern, or will ‘flexible’ offer the freedom to carry out their hours in a way that suits them and their lifestyle best? Without clear policies and definite answers, you risk not only confusion, but also unrest.

Why is this important?

Unrest within your teams and between your people is something you should actively avoid under normal circumstances of course, but during a period of global instability such as that which the pandemic has brought, it is particularly important to provide safe and secure working conditions.

Studies throughout the course of the pandemic continue to highlight that the risks to people’s health from this pandemic are not only psychological but physical too.The wellbeing and mental health of your employees has been compromised by not only the Covid outbreak itself, but also from its consequences.

Multiple, lengthy lockdowns, social isolation, social distancing, furlough, and a fear of illness for loved ones for example. In addition, some people may have experienced the virus first-hand and suffered from the loss of loved ones.

Even as we begin to ease ourselves into a new form of normality, the individual fear and anxiety that people are presently struggling with won’t simply go away. Returning to an office situation may see some employees anxious about daily tasks such as the commute and using public transport, as well as sharing an office space again. Others will have more general but heightened anxieties as an effect of the past year.

The CIPD report that 44% of employees are feeling anxious about returning to work while 31% said they were concerned about the commute to work (this figure rose significantly for workers in London, up to 54%). It is with some certainty that for the months, if not years following the pandemic, these challenges will continue to manifest.

What you can do

At present, the Government is considering making it a default right for flexible working. This could be ground-breaking and as an organisation, you have the unique opportunity to be at the forefront of a historical moment in time, shining a light on how to ‘do it right and do it well’. What your people need now, more than at any time in living memory is compassion, understanding and patience. They need to know you hear them.

The Winningtemp platform is a safe area in which employees can express their feelings anonymously without fear of judgement or repercussion. It enables managers to learn the concerns of their people without having to second-guess how they are feeling and react accordingly in real-time, instead of recognising something is wrong when it has become too late to resolve. Below is a set of measures that you can put into place right now, to help your people during this time.

5 actions you can put into place right now

1) Gather the input. Take the pulse of how employees are feeling week to week. Allow them to share how they are feeling, anonymously or in person.

2) Have someone who is dedicated to employee wellbeing and can provide psychological support and coaching — in-house or external. For example, buy hours from a counsellor/coach/psychologist. Your budget may be limited here, but it will be worth it.

3) Prepare your managers. They will be getting a lot of questions. They will need transparency and a healthy flow of information starting now. Also: encouragement!

4) Revisit company policies and packages if you haven’t already. Much has changed and employees will expect updates to reflect the new circumstances.

5) Focus in on strengths and positives. Praise team members for their hard work, dedication, and exemplary input during the pandemic. There will always be problems to solve, shining attention on the good areas will give you the energy to propel your company into the next chapter.

Watch how Acorns Hospice have used Winningtemp throughout the pandemic to bring together their workforce during the most challenging of times.

CLIENT INSIGHT  Returning to Work post pandemic Watch the video now


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