How we’re going to reopen our office

By Emma Kane, CEO

Like many of you reading this, back in March we left our offices when lockdown started having no idea when we would be able to return – looking back we had even less idea about the changes we’d have to make to even consider reopening.

As this newsletter is published, I’m briefing our team on how we will achieve this and what our new office environment will be like.  As with everything COVID-19 related, it is not straightforward.

Whilst our UK regional offices are far smaller, in London, we have over 150 people working from our office.  With that scale comes complexity and a plethora of new rules and regulations.  Importantly, we also wanted to understand our colleagues’ hopes, fears and expectations – as well as harvest as many good ideas as we could.  So, our first step was for our research team to conduct a survey of our colleagues to inform the decisions we were going to take.  

People shared their delight at increasing the amount of time they spend with their family or exercising because they are saving time commuting; others commented on the money saved from travel, food and drink and the healthier lifestyles they have enjoyed cooking their breakfasts and lunches at home.  The ability to concentrate without distractions, the work/life balance that has been achieved… the list goes on.

Others have struggled.  For some it has been a battle for broadband with flatmates, or a struggle to find peace and quiet with the household Zooming simultaneously, finding ways to manage childcare, or how to stop the dog barking when the Amazon delivery arrives mid video conference.  Many are missing hearing colleagues solving problems for clients and the opportunity to spontaneously bounce ideas around or witnessing campaigns being devised and brands being built… 

Not everyone, but many are eager to get back to normal.

However, there is nothing ‘normal’ about the return to work.  People’s biggest concern is the practicality of safely commuting to the office using public transport – something outside any of our control.  Almost as challenging is the need to manage childcare arrangements, with schools remaining closed and many alternative childcare providers needing to shield or not wanting to travel.

So, when the Government gives the green light, we’ve planned for a phased return to the office offering absolute flexibility for those who want to and can avoid public transport or are able to travel on public transport outside peak times.  

It’s not gone unremarked that with new sanitary requirement meaning that shower capacity is considerably reduced, those who cycle (or run) may require much more that 2m social distancing!

When we reopen, we’ll have a staggered seating plan avoiding people sitting next to or opposite one another and a rota so people know what days they can choose to come in with a  Monday/Tuesday gang and a Wednesday/Thursday gang to enable the maximum number of people to return on any one day.

But a seating plan is the tip of the iceberg; we’ve worked with experts from Expedite to put in place other measures to keep us all safe.

We’ll be providing PPE, hygiene guidelines and taking measures to ensure a constantly clean and safe working environment; staff will take their temperature before leaving home and not even consider coming into the office if they – or anyone in their house – feels unwell; hand sanitiser and bins to dispose of PPE used on the way in will be available at the entrance.

Inside the office, there’ll be a one-way circulation system; a new screen on reception and special arrangements put in place to limit reception staff’s exposure when they manage deliveries and any guests.

In person meetings will only take place if absolutely necessary – our meeting rooms have been mapped out to limit the number of people who will use them to a level where social distancing can be maintained, including people leaving the room in a safe order (in the same way we see ministers and advisors arrive and exit the daily Government briefing).  The video conferencing which has become a key part of our interactions in recent times will continue! 

I could go on – it’s all been covered and a full risk assessment document will be posted on our website to confirm this.  

I’m immensely proud of how our team has adapted to remote working – and I’m in no doubt that reopening the office will bring new challenges.  But these are the same problems that our office based clients are grappling with and, arguably, nothing compared to the difficulties facing people in areas such as hospitality.

As things stand, we’ll be running this as a trial during July and will update our plans as Government guidelines are amended.  What we have tried to do is to marry the highest levels of safety for our most valuable and treasured assets – our people – with maximum flexibility.  It certainly seems to be a considerably more onerous process than any experienced by my colleagues around our 31 offices elsewhere around the globe…