A recent survey confirmed that nearly every employee is worried about returning to work, with concerns about touching shared office devices, social distancing, cleanliness and more. Just nine per cent of workers expect to return to the office full time.
Employees and employers are keen to explore the opportunity of hybrid working, keeping face-to-face contact within some form of office environment – or ‘touchdown space’ – a core part of the working experience, even if only for a few days each month.
To re-engage employees with the physical workspace, you need to start planning now. Instead of waiting for the current restrictions to end, it’s time to brush off the office and policy cobwebs and put plans in place ahead of the long-awaited return to the office. Employers need to consider what steps are required to make employees feel safe, supported and motivated in the new hybrid environment. They also need to check employees’ physical and mental wellbeing and intervene if necessary.
This is not just about extra hand sanitiser or one-way systems. Companies need to actively communicate plans about how they view the new workspace – including how and when it is used. This is about reimagining the office concept for the better.
Keeping employees in the loop
Employees need to feel confident that the business has a handle on social distancing. They want to know how their employer plans to keep track of on-site staff and visitors, to meet contact-tracing requirements. And they want to be able to collaborate with colleagues wherever they are.
These factors needn’t be overwhelming. Simple apps or online tools can be used to sign into the building, using contactless technology to minimise interactions. This provides a company with accurate and up-to-date information about every employee, visitor and contractor on site at any time. If any individual becomes ill or tests positive for Covid-19, the business has immediate access to the contact details of anyone who has been potentially exposed, allowing for contact tracing and isolation.
These kind of apps can also be used by employees to book desks in advance – with clear rules set to control capacity in every area. For example in a pod of four desks, only two can be made available at any one time – all done electronically. Meeting spaces can be limited to specific numbers – enforcing the rule of six, for example. Showing employees that the space is safe and controlled is a great way to boost their confidence about returning to the office, especially for the first time.
Ensuring staff wellbeing
Adding health questionnaires to the sign-in and sign-out process enables you to keep track of mental and physical wellbeing. Covid-19 questions such as whether someone is running a temperature or has a cough will be standard requirements within most offices for the foreseeable future. But this facility can also be used to check an individual’s mental wellbeing, especially if they are using the app to sign in and out of work at home as well as in the office.
In addition to checking that employees are not working excessive hours at home – something that has raised concerns over the past few months – managers can use the app to gain a better understanding of how people are coping with the changing working world.
How are they managing working from home? Do they have ideas about how to improve the collaborative workspace? In a working world that’s moving towards a hybrid environment, this information can provide companies with vital insights to inform new policies and procedures that will help to safeguard employees and create a productive workforce.
It’s important to keep in mind there isn’t a one-size-fits all solution and no set framework for the new working environment – what will work for one organisation may require further process iterations for the next. But what better time is there than now to consider how the office can be changed for the better? To improve morale, collaboration and productivity via a flexible culture that works for all, underpinned by technology.
Few companies are expecting to open the doors and welcome the entire workforce back to the office on day one, but many may well be surprised by the reluctance of some individuals to return to any co-working space. Employee expectations of the working world have changed for good so employers need to not only adapt working spaces accordingly, but also their approach to HR and duty of care. Technology is set to play a key role in this strategy, not only in managing the capacity and safety within the physical office space but also in building confidence and providing a chance to check in with employees and understand what they need to be productive and happy in the office or at home.
Read Stephen Pierce’s advice for how to shape your return to work plan around your employees here.
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