5 factors to consider while building your back-to-office strategy
As pandemic restrictions ease up in the UK, businesses are gradually planning to return to the office in a safe, healthy manner. If you are looking for tips on how to manage the transition while also providing a productive environment for team members accustomed to working from home, here is a quick checklist to help you out:
1. Time management
After a prolonged period of working from home, employees will naturally feel nervous about rejoining a workspace where they come in contact with lots of people every day and in a more rigid timescale than they have been used to. Follow these steps to assuage their fears and ensure the smooth flow of business:
a. Have rotational schedules
Identify how many people you can safely accommodate on the premises and then schedule rotational in-office days for different teams to keep non-essential contact to a minimum.
b. Introduce flexi-time
Decide on certain core hours when you need your team to be present in the office, and then allow your team to choose their start and end times around that. This can help them time their commute and also not disrupt their work-life balance.
c. Track employee presence
Have a system in place to track who comes and leaves and at what time. This lets you gather essential data on office use, decide when to schedule meetings for optimal attendance, and know when to alert everyone if someone has come down with COVID-19.
2. Facility clean-up
Ensuring that all touch surfaces are clean and contamination-free is perhaps the biggest part of creating a safe work environment. In fact, you can never be too careful when it comes to sanitising the workplace.
a. Identify the high-touch areas
Things like coffee machines, fridges, printing machines and drawing handles are touched by many people and most likely to spread the virus. Keep sanitary wipes nearby so employees can wipe down the surfaces after use.
b. Go automatic wherever possible
If you do not already have devices like automatic soap dispensers and hand dryers, now is a good time to invest in them.
c. Daily cleaning
Stock up on high-quality cleaning products with antiviral properties for everyday office cleaning. Set aside a budget for such items.
Keep plenty of sanitiser bottles around the office for employees and visitors to use as and when they need to.
e. Increase storage facilities
Try to provide separate lockers or storage areas for each employee’s personal belongings to reduce the risk of spread through contact.
f. Check your ventilation
Unfortunately, COVID-19 and many other diseases are airborne, which makes good ventilation a must. Moreover, since your employees maybe wearing masks at work, clean air is essential to make breathing easy.
If you use air-conditioning, check with the building manager to ensure that recycled air is kept to a minimum.
Open the doors and windows whenever possible so that natural air can flow in. Plus, if you can, stock up on plants to improve air quality and add a pleasant (and an aesthetic) touch to your office interiors.
Pro tip: If managing an office space is too much for you to handle, start small and book a handful of hot desks for your team until things are closer to normal. You can find many clean, well-equipped and thoroughly sanitised coworking spaces to work from.
3. Team interaction
Employee conversations and behaviour cannot immediately go back to the way as they were before the pandemic. So encourage your team members to do the following to stay safe and keep their colleagues safe.
a. Encourage walking or cycling
To minimise the use of public transport, have fun steps or miles challenges that involve walking, running or cycling to work.
b. Exercise caution during meetings and lunch breaks
Have your doors and windows open as much as possible when several people are sharing a space. Also, encourage your employees to have their lunches outside as much as possible and reduce their use of fridges or microwaves.
c. Practice safe office etiquette
Have socially distanced ways of greeting each other, such as fist bumps in the air or bumping of the elbows.
4. Space management
For safety, your employees should be seated at least two metres away from each other. Here are some simple ways to use your space optimally.
a. Reposition your desks
Before your employees come back to work, reorganise your desk arrangement so that they are at a distance from each other and are situated side-to-side or back-to-back rather than front-to-front. If you cannot move your desks around, get temporary shields installed.
b. Avoid corridor seats
These seats put your employees at the highest risk, as people will always be moving up and down the corridor. Do not use these seats if you can help it.
c. Optimise your office space for its primary purpose
If individual tasks can be finished remotely (as they have been during the lockdown), your office space will likely be mostly for meetings and collaborative work.
Optimise your seating arrangement to cater to that by spacing chairs out in a large circle or clusters of four and five.
Pro tip: Many coworking spaces like TriassicHUB take social distancing seriously and have ensured the office furniture is placed at a distance from each other so that professionals can work without bumping into others.
In fact, besides meeting rooms, TriassicHub also has an acoustic pod that acts as a visual and audio barrier in the existing workspace landscape, and enables the professionals to work in peace, tucked away in their respective pods from the hubbub of the office.
5. Office-wide communication
These are uncertain times, and your employees will have doubts and fears. However, having clear, two-way communication channels in place will ensure that your employees understand the new safety measures better.
a. Let them know early
Many employees may be nervous about coming back to the office, which means that you need to let them know about the return well in advance and inform them about the safety precautions you are taking.
b. Track symptoms
Apart from daily temperature checks at work, ask your employees to keep monitoring their symptoms and to inform you at once if they are feeling unwell. Encourage regular testing.
c. Repeat, repeat, repeat
Keep stressing the importance of maintaining hygiene and safety, such as by using sanitiser and wiping down common surface areas after using them.
Be open to feedback
Ultimately, your employees need to feel safe in the workspace, and a big part of that is listening to what they have to say.
Encourage your employees to share any concerns and suggestions they may have and run weekly surveys to see whether they are satisfied with your implemented safety measures.
The past 1-1.5 years have not been easy on any of us. Therefore, keep your ears open, plan carefully and adequately, and execute your back-to-office strategy in phases. And when in doubt, book a nice and comfortable coworking space for your team.
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