Many organizations assume that, despite the threat of the ongoing health crisis, the current remote working arrangements are only temporary. The truth is, the physical workspace may never be the same again. We’ll likely see flexible arrangements at the heart of new working patterns.
As lockdowns begin to ease, your organization may be grappling with how to reintroduce employees to your offices. Having had employees adjust to working remotely, the challenge is to roll-out a strategy to bring them back and ensure both operational readiness and employee well-being.
In this article, Kangan Arora, Director, with the APAC Human Resources Team of the Cloud Communications division of NTT Ltd. shares tips on how you can support employees as they transition into the post-lockdown workplace environment.
First steps and considerations: How has workplace culture changed?
“We are seeing a shift in mindset and managerial styles as the efficacy of remote working arrangements becomes more apparent,” says Kangan.
“The common assumption in the past was that employees were less productive while working from home. Whilst we did perhaps experience some productivity lag at the beginning, we have not had any complaints or concerns on work quality or output during this period of remote working,”
It’s a common finding. And many more businesses are now extending flexible working arrangements as they get used to how effective it can be. Maybe you too are finding that office facetime is not a be-all-and-end-all productivity metric. And that the quality of work is not purely dependent on a nine-to-six work schedule.
“I can see that the health crisis has transformed many mindsets. The hesitation to allow employees to work from home is no longer present, ” says Kangan. “Managers are also starting to realize that there is no one-size-fits-all productivity profile. Whilst some people work better in the morning, others do so at night. If we allow employees to work around a more flexible schedule, we can enable them to become more productive.” She also notes that “this mind-shift then opens the door to new modes of communication and collaboration – and technologies – that will be crucial in the new norm.”
Consult employees on returning to the post-lockdown workplace
Of course, organizations are staffed by people, and not machines, so another crucial part of the back-to-work experience is making sure that employees feel comfortable with returning to their old work environment. It’s not enough for the actual safety standards to be high. As part of any re-opening process, people must also feel confident that their safety is not being compromised.
As such, any organization should be sharing the steps it is taking. This should cover full details on how it plans to safeguard its employees when they return to the office. And the steps employees should take to protect themselves and others. As part of the process, organizations should take the initiative to consult with employees. It’s vital to understand concerns about returning to office premises. Questions to ask employees may include the following:
- How do you feel about returning to the office?
- Would you prefer to continue working from home at this time?
- Do you have concerns over taking public transport?
- Are there any additional materials, training or equipment that you need to feel safe?
- Are there any obstacles that need to be solved before you might return to the office?
- How else can we better support you during this transition period?
With this established, you will be better able to put in place a gradual and phased approach to returning to a post-lockdown workplace.
As Kangan notes: “Employee comfort is our priority and we are giving them the time and flexibility to re-transition into the workplace. If they’re comfortable enough, they may return to the office. If not, they may take their time to make a gradual return. Either way, we are not imposing any fixed duration or deadlines for the process.”
Encourage flexibility in the reopening process
“Flexibility is key to the reopening process,” says Kangan.
“Some employees may require additional time to plan for childcare. Or to adjust their working hours if schools have reopened. Others may now so used to their remote working arrangements that they need time to re-adapt to their old work environment.”
It’s certainly not a one-size fits all situation. “There are also employees who may simply be concerned about how their safety will be managed when they return to work,” says Kangan. “In a post-lockdown workplace, we need to give them the flexibility to decide when they are comfortable enough to return.”
On top of that, the workplace they will return to will look quite different from the one that they left. With social distancing set to continue, you could also stagger start times and use flexible hours to manage human traffic flows.
Ensuring business continuity with the right tools
Beyond the physical workspace, meetings will continue over audio and video, just as they have throughout the current pandemic. This comes especially as the risk of a resurgence remains high. Countries everywhere are needing to make important decisions and continue to take effective precautions to ensure a safe reopening of the economy.
For instance, as part of its ‘return to work’ plan, the Australian government has issued 10 National COVID-19 safe work principles. Meanwhile, the Singapore government requires telecommuting to be fully adopted in businesses that reopen. This means that workers who have been able to work from home must continue doing so. Employees should only go to the office when demonstrably necessary, such as if they require access to specialized equipment or systems.
Telecommuting and remote working modes will therefore continue to be relevant. Until a cure for the virus emerges they will remain an integral component in your workforce continuity strategy. In the meantime, companies must ensure they have the tools to enable employees to work remotely, effectively. And that the solutions they choose are suitable if there is a resurgence of the health crisis.
For now though, all eyes are on how organizations will re-onboard both existing and furloughed staff. It’s likely to be a complex task. It goes beyond temperature checks, revised seating plans and managing flows of people. It will be equally important to give employees adequate time to readjust and settle in.
Above all, there will be a need to rebuild morale and to create a new sense of belonging in the new normal.
Becoming a post-lockdown workplace
Do you need assistance on business continuity strategies and effectively implementing communications tools for your remote workforce? To learn more about how your organization can quickly move from makeshift ways of communicating, collaborating and calling, do contact us.