Remote Working

A cautious guide to re-opening the office

Lydia Watson

A little over a year ago, the UK lockdown laws had just eased slightly – enough to allow those who “can’t work from home” to go back to their jobs. But since all office-working companies had speedily pivoted to remote working, that didn’t change much for a lot of industries.

Now restrictions are easing – and although some have already taken the plunge, many think it’s time to encourage people out of their spare rooms, away from the dining table, and back into the office.

If you want people back in the office, and they’re slow to return, here’s a few ways to make it more appealing:

Stay safe: sanitation and social distancing

The top team might have vaccine #1 done and dusted, but the chances are that a lot of employees haven’t – and may be nervous about their health, or their family’s. That means the more precautions you can take, the better.

Top tips:

  • Socially distanced desking
  • Sanitation stations
  • Lateral flow tests before office visits
  • Strict ‘stay at home’ sickness policy
  • Booking system to limit numbers

Be flexible: dodge rush hour, go to the dentists

Let’s be honest. For some workers, the reluctance to return is about not wanting to let a good thing go. But by being flexible – and promising to remain so, at least for the near future – you can dismiss those fears.

Top tips:

  • Flexible starts and finishes, to avoid rush hour
  • Let people choose their own ‘office day’
  • Allow the odd dentist, doctor, or opticians trip as a ‘freebie’

Don’t pressure: be ‘psychology savvy’

If you tell your staff they have to work from the office, you’re going to have a bad time. Yes, we know that used to be the norm – but the last year has changed employee expectations for good. We’re not talking about going down the full ‘reverse psychology’ route, but just being mindful that you get more office workers with flexible policies and gentle encouragement than you do with… well you get the picture.

Top tips:

  • Be vocal about enjoying your office visits
  • …but avoid passive-aggressive ‘reminders’

Create incentives: treats, sweets, and meet-ups

Free breakfasts, free lunch, free snacks, a free bar – we’re all human, so these are things we’ve missed from our generous office managers. But it stands to reason: if you make the office a nice place to be (from sorting out the heating, to providing croissants on Thursdays) then the people will come.

Top tips:

  • Refill the kitchen with coffee, tea, and soft drinks
  • Order breakfast for occasional  ‘team days’
  • Get teams to share their in-office experiences

Stay small: rule of six, a day or two a week

Wolf of Wall Street office floors are out of the question for a while, so don’t jump before you can run. Start out with the occasional ‘team day in’, to keep the space safe and allow your employees to ease back in slowly. After a year out, it’s a lot to process.

Top tips:

  • Make teams ‘book in’ a week in advance
  • Encourage teams to come in together
  • Offer monthly 121s in the office

Think social: eat out to help… people reconnect

If the biggest issue you have with remote working is the loss of connection, then it’s a waste of a journey to sit in silence over a spreadsheet. Begin your ‘return to the office’ by reintroducing the Friday drinks, the Wednesday pizza, the monthly game night  – whatever it is, make it social.

Top tips:

  • Use the odd long lunch to freeflow on strategy
  • Get a small social calendar in the works
  • Trial 4.30pm Friday finishes in the office

It’s time to start the conversation

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