As governments across the globe begin to make steps towards lifting lockdown measures, many big corporates are beginning to announce their plans to get offices back in operation. As no two offices are the same, we’re seeing employers considering a range of different solutions such as implementing temperature checks, introducing furniture items to act as barriers and staggered arrival times. The one commonality between most is a significant reduction in the amount of staff allowed in the office together at any one time. Uber in San Francisco has announced plans to get staff back to their offices, but with only 20 percent of staff allowed in the building on a given day. So what about the remaining 80% of employees that have to continue working from home?
With many of us thirsting to get back to our old norms, missing the collective socialisation that the workplace offers and keen to see our fellow colleagues, the reality of these first stages of a return to work may be a disappointment for those who are asked to remain working from home.
As we each make plans to re-activate our physical workplaces, reformatting space for safe social distancing, managers and leaders may want to consider additional measures to focus their working from home strategies, reformatting their engagement strategies to include some of the following:
In ensuring the office does not become too busy to the point where people feel uncomfortable, we’re seeing many employers considering solutions such as staggered arrival times and this is something you may wish to extend to those who remain working from home. According to an analysis of server activity on its network, NordVPN found that on the average working day in the U.K., France and Spain, people are typically working for two more hours a day since working from home. In offering the same window of time for those coming into the office, to those who remain working from home, you’ll not only be building trust, but also returning an element of choice to your employees.
FOMO. The acronym stands for: fear of missing out and is described as a type of anxiety characterised by apprehension that one might be missing out on favourable opportunities. In addition to the associated levels of anxiety, grief and uncertainty we are now experiencing, added anxieties about inclusivity need to be addressed. In order to combat FOMO it’s important to regulate engagement between teams working in and out of the office. Schedule regular catch ups between teams that allow participants working from home to regularly connect with others while they are operating in the office, allowing those who remain at home to gain perspective of what is going on in the office. Furthermore ensure you share your revised office floor plans and communicate any new cleaning regimes with your entire workforce so that everyone has the same perspective.
Similarly there is increasing speculation around the norms that govern workers behaviours potentially changing when we return to work post lockdown, in particular, many are expecting more relaxed dress codes. It’s these small things that bring a sense of belonging to your workforce, making it more important than ever to keep staff communication regular and timely. You may want to consider activating meeting rooms with additional technology to allow both visual and auditory connections to take place.
In recent years optimal workplace design has focussed on creating collaboration. Design solutions have concentrated on creating space for casual collision and breaking down barriers between teams to encourage cross team collaboration, with the ultimate goal of creating innovation through the sharing of ideas, improving productivity, and promoting healthy and supportive employee relationships. When we’re in the office there are a number of physical elements that create bonds. Even the most basic of items can facilitate subliminal connections. Take for example the humble stationary cupboard, which provides opportunities for group alignment on how these should be maintained, sparking conversation and ultimately creating connections. With proximity in the face of COVID-19 considerably less appealing, you may want to consider taking some of these physical spaces online. Create an open forum “water cooler” or and “online lunchroom channel” on Slack or Teams, so that employees who remain working from home still have opportunity for chance interactions.