It’s office life – but not as we know it

By Sally Walton, Partner

Homeworking has become a way of life for nearly half of office workers over the past five months. Many have successfully proved that, at least for this length of time, home working can be efficient and effective.  Staff have been recognised for continuing to deliver in their role without any marked changes, despite often challenging working environments.  Press articles applauded the success of remote working and bemoaned the fact that the office life will never be the same again. Many senior managers are planning for a future with far more flexible working – seeking to identify the optimum balance between the flexibility many have enjoyed against the benefits of working in the same location.  

I don’t doubt that many people are looking forward to returning to the office, air-conditioned environments and the ability to work without the distraction of children or pets.  However, some are still nervous about commuting on public transport despite tube and rail usage remaining significantly down on pre-Covid times.  Others are turning to two wheels or two legs for their daily commute – a potential boon if it encourages formerly sedentary office workers to be more active.  Trepidation around public transport may fade as going back to the office, even part time, becomes normal again. There’s been a seismic shift in our attitudes to work since the UK went into lockdown and while some of those attitudes may persist, we’re also likely to see some return to the “old normal” as the risks around COVID-19 are managed more effectively. Just as going to a restaurant for the first time after lockdown felt nerve-racking and strange, within a matter of weeks huge numbers of people have been enticed out to ‘Eat-out to Help out’.  The more you do it, the more you become comfortable with it.

With social distancing meaning that many companies can only ask their office workers to return for part of the week, the challenge becomes how to ensure your team is kept informed when you may have less than half of your staff in the office on any given day and the rest working at home.  Not able to listen into the work chatter, office banter and updates on activity is likely to be felt keenly in a team divided this way.  In this new hybrid environment managers must pay close attention to ensuring that all staff are communicated to equally.  It is not fair for certain staff to miss out just because it is not “their day” in the office. So, how can you help your staff to navigate through this new hybrid working environment?  

Continue your daily catch up even if half the team is in the office.  Many staff have reported feeling a stronger sense of belonging and more involved as a result of daily catch-ups during lockdown and this should continue.

Develop communication protocols to ensure conversations do not exclude staff working at home.  Remember to share updates from meetings and status on projects with all team members.

Invite all relevant staff to meetings and enable the technology so that remote workers can join a meeting in the office via video conferencing.  

Remember that each employee has gone through an extraordinary time over the past five months and each will have different anxieties and pressures.  Take time to catch up with your staff individually to give them a chance to discuss this.  

Ultimately, this is an opportunity for businesses to re-shape the working environment with a mixture of office and home working.  The key is trust – from the employer to focus on outputs and ensuring staff are working effectively and efficiently, and appreciation – from the employee to be given the chance to enjoy a better work life balance. 

As September approaches, children will be returning to school and mixing with friends and teachers and parents will be reassuring the children that it is safe to do so.   Parents may need to heed their own advice as they start to step back into the office a little more.