Guest blog on going back to office life by Nic Redfern, Finance Director, KnowYourMoney.co.uk

The coronavirus has infiltrated every element of our daily lives, particularly the activities of UK businesses. Consequently, the majority of UK offices have been closed since late March, with half (49%) of workers working from home by mid-June.

However, the Government is beginning to relax its lockdown measures. Not only has the Government released it’s safe working guidance, but the Prime Minister revealed a blueprint to gradually get the UK back to “normal” on July 17th. Such activities aimed to encourage UK employers to prompt a return to the office.

At face value, this may seem like a simple exercise. However, we must not underestimate the size of the task at hand. Indeed, the shift back to office life will not be a case of one-size-fits-all; businesses will have different sized office spaces, team sizes, and budgets. So, the question is, how can employers best prepare their organizations and their staff for the transition?

Understand priorities

Of course, employers want to ensure the health and stability of their business. That said, the primary concern should be the safety and wellbeing of their staff. After all, it would be pointless to re-open the office if the workforce felt too unsafe to come back.

Employees will likely have mixed feelings about coming back to office life. While some may be excited by the prospect of rejoining their colleagues in the office space, others might be more apprehensive; indeed, recent research from KnowYourMoney.co.uk revealed that half (50%) of UK adults are anxious about social distancing measure being relaxed. So, it is vital to take staff concerns into consideration.

Therefore, employers must begin reaching out to their workforce to gauge their thoughts about returning to work. In this effort, organizing team conference calls or sending out company-wide surveys is a good start. Not only will it ensure that employees feel valued and heard, but the exercise will provide strong foundations for the organization’s strategy to bring employees back to work. Additionally, these steps will enable employers to protect the longevity of the business, which will, in turn, help to safeguard employees’ livelihoods.

Safety precautions

Once the health and safety priorities of staff have been firmly established, employers will be able to evaluate their current office surroundings and identify where changes need to be made.

For many businesses, the main concern will be social distancing. A recent survey from the recruitment consultancy Robert Half revealed that 56% of employees felt anxious about being in close proximity with others when they return to work. In some cases, offices will need to undertake a physical restructuring of their space, for example, getting rid of some desks and opening up space meeting hubs. Additionally, the business may need to invest in larger desks, or protective screenings between the existing ones, to ensure staff feels protected.

Office furniture will not be the only consideration for businesses; hygiene will also be a factor. The majority of offices will receive daily cleaning services, however more regular of deep cleans might be introduced. Additionally, hand sanitizer stations might be placed around the office space.

Revising and upgrading current health and safety policies will be essential and clearly communicating such policy changes to staff. These procedures will help to ease anxieties surrounding hygiene and encourage staff to return back to the office.

A staggered approach

Next, employers should consider the logistics of re-opening and returning to office life. By this, I refer to how and when employers will invite staff back to work.

It will not be realistic for many organizations to bring back all employees at once; a staggered approach may be much more sensible. From there, many business’ strategies will depend on the size and layout of office space. 

Some organizations might consider a team-by-team approach in organizing their return back to office life. For example, they might bring in smaller teams first for a couple of days a week,  – such as marketing, finance, or sales –  before slowly bringing in other employees. It may even come to light that it is simply unrealistic to bring in the entire workforce into the office. 

One possibility might be that the working structure changes and the office is only used for collaborative projects while other employees work remotely. Some businesses may even opt to work from home for the foreseeable future; it is up to business leaders to decide what is best for the business and its workforce.

The “new normal”

Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all model to enable businesses to adapt to the “new normal” of going back to office life.

Indeed, while some businesses may overhaul their entire office space, others may do away with office living altogether. After all, if productivity has not faulted too much with staff working from home, some may find it more cost-effective to continue working from home.

Most importantly, businesses should not rush back into the office if they do not feel ready. Business leaders must be respectful of staff concerns and act accordingly to accommodate them as best they can. Through a careful and considered approach, businesses will be able to adjust to adapt to the new normal gradually when returning back to office life.

Nic Redfern, writer of Going back to Office Life, is Financial Director for Know Your Money. Know Your Money is an independent financial comparison website, launched in 2004. Run by a dedicated team, Know Your Money’s goal is to provide clear, accurate, and transparent comparisons for a wide range of financial products, such as business loans, mortgages, and car insurance.

You may also like this piece on caring for your team in challenging times.

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