Home Insights & Advice The challenge facing businesses returning to offices this year

The challenge facing businesses returning to offices this year

by John Saunders
16th Jul 21 6:01 pm

Many businesses have made the decision to reopen their offices this year, after forced closures last year due to COVID-19. However, it’s not quite as simple as just opening the doors and returning to normality, there will be challenges that you need to overcome.

Consider the inevitability of flexible work

What is important to remember, is that not everyone will be able to physically return to the office, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Flexible working certainly has a place in modern business, even if it’s on a part-time basis.

Coming out of lockdown and back to offices, many employers have made the decision to split working schedules from office based and home working in a week. For example, you could be in the office for two days a week, and working from home for the rest of it. It all depends on the business, and this way they manage to have more social distancing in the workplace, as well as giving employees more creative freedom and the opportunity to save more money.

Keeping communication clear and consistent

During COVID-19 at its peak, it was crucial that businesses and HR departments maintain clear and consistent levels of communications. This was because employees were very nervous about what was going on, and required reassurance about their employment and safety, if they were still working.

Now that they are used to clear lines of communication, it is imperative that you keep them, as to not disgruntle any employees. Communication is a key factor of a successful business, and when employees finally return to work safely, you shouldn’t take this away, as it will be detrimental to your business.

Build a vibrant workplace of culture

With employees returning to offices and workplaces, it will be your responsibility as a manager or business owner to ensure the culture of the workplace is a positive one. It will not only be a challenge to get all your employees back through the office doors, but also to keep their spirits high and mentally happy.

In the short term, it may not be possible to have team events such as karaoke to relax, but it may be possible to have some relaxation. At work, consider offering more social times, such as coffee breaks or just breaks in general.

As a business, you will have to be empathetic not only to your employees, but to your customers and clients too. Employees may have anxieties about returning to work and missing their families, as well as general safety concerns. So, you should prioritise their safety and be open with them about what returning means, so you can all move forward together.

Consider how to bring employees back

One of the first things you need to think about, is how will you actually implement bringing people back into the office or workplace in general? That means you need to be aware of any information that is relevant that they need to know, or how much time you will give them.

You may have hired some individuals that are working remotely across the country, who would not be able to simply come into the office. Or the costs associated with working in an office may now mean that you have to downsize your staff, with the costs of normal working too much to support your number of employees.

In situations such as this, it’s important that you deal with the situation delicately. After all, no one wants to be told that they’re going to lose their job. If it has to be done, you should support them in finding a new job role out of the company, with something such as an outplacement service.

These services are in place to work with outgoing employees, providing them with education, knowledge and resources in order to find new opportunities. Also, if you offer outplacement services, your current employees will feel more reassured with what happens to them if the worst was to happen.

There will be many different challenges facing your employees returning to the office this year after an uncertain year, and the main focus needs to be on the wellbeing and happiness of your employees. At the end of the day, they are your responsibility, and if you get it wrong, your business will suffer.

Employee health confidentiality is crucial

With there being a lot of uncertainty about what the future holds for businesses in general, one thing that will always be important to consider, is how you will protect an employee’s confidentiality and private records. As you will know, it is important to ensure anyone that manages to catch COVID-19, stays away from work, in order to prevent it spreading.

This means you will need to understand some elements of their health records, in order to best protect them. However, they are of course owed some degree of privacy that you will need to respect, meaning you can’t bug them too much about it. If you need to discuss the health of an employee, then ensure you do it in a private place or over the phone, that no one else can hear.

Managing access to work and limiting risk

You may have to consider how you will administer individuals into your workplace. If it’s a shared office space, then it may require more delicate work to get everyone in. It’s generally a good idea in these times to keep a record of everyone coming into the office, so you can get a better grasp on who may have come into contact with who.

Whilst this was always useful for offices, they have had to step it up to become more detailed, including for when they fly away on holiday, and utilising the track and trace system either with the app or writing it down. You can do this manually of course, or use some signing in software that will be built with COVID-19 in mind.

Amenities in-house and around the business

It’s possible that your workplace had certain amenities in-house that you may not be able to get back. This could include treats, or having entertainers come in, or even a masseur. Of course, it may be that these people who provided these amenities are no longer able to, either because of COVID-19 or because they work with someone else now.

You will have to consider how this will affect those returning to work life, as they may not be happy to hear about it. Consider finding alternatives or working with your employees to find a system that they will approve of. If you’re city centre based, you may have local cafes in the area or coffee shops that were always there to serve your employees, that now may be closed.

HRs role will expand further

HR has always been an important cog in the business machine. Indeed, over the last year we’ve seen HR departments evolve for dealing with COVID-19. They have to work with employees with constant communication about changing variables that will directly affect them. The importance of HR will only be cemented, so it’s important that you invest into your HR to keep it as strong as you possibly can.

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