Opinion

Bringing people back to the office

Our team at Pure has been working towards reopening our offices and bring our teams safely back together. However, it hasn’t been easy and has taken a lot of planning to create safe workspaces that meet government guidelines, yet are inclusive, support our culture, enable socially distant teamwork and are, most importantly, safe for our people.

Talking with our clients across the region, we know that the current situation has presented many challenges, from flexible working to maintaining culture and morale, to communication and productivity. Yet it has also created an opportunity to reset our work and home lives, particularly around the use of technology and adapting to using video calls not only for customers but also for employee engagement.

We are not sure what is around the corner however, what we do know, is that the way we work has changed and may continue to do so. Here are some of the challenges and solutions we faced for preparing our offices and bringing our people safely back.

Challenges of bringing people back

At Pure, we are a social bunch and like to be together. Teamwork is encouraged and bringing people back into the offices is important for maintaining our culture.

But whilst "we’re all in the same storm, we’re not all in the same boat." Thanks to Ros Stephens for this quote.

Even though many of our team thrive on being together, it is important to acknowledge that not everybody does. Many influencing factors will affect how individuals feel about returning to the office under the current crisis. There are visible concerns such as reduced salaries and affordability of commuting back to work or even paying rent, exhaustion from working all the way through, challenges with homeschooling, concerns of caring for vulnerable family members and or concerns around own health. Considering the furlough, some people enjoyed it, some did not, not everyone will have had a chance to learn a new language or discover a hidden talent, but some will have.

Then are the invisible concerns about returning to work, such as individual attitudes to risk, anxiety, positive or negative experience of the past year, the strength of support network, concerns that everything has changed or that nothing has changed even down to concerns over the strength of home Wi-Fi.

Homeworking has also been good for many of our people. More connecting technologies are being utilised, conversations by video or phone have become more meaningful, fewer distractions have meant increased productivity and quality of work, and those with the longest commutes have benefited from a better work-life balance.  If you need to make a series of private calls to clients, customers or suppliers or need time to write proposals, blogs, documents, then these activities are better from a quieter environment and home working benefits this.

Recognising that some of the team may have felt more productive and effective at home, whereas some will have felt isolated and disconnected, will present challenges to bringing people back and connected together. Six months is a long time to be out of the office so adapting to being back in will take time, especially with the new arrangements.

Supporting our people with their individual challenges and anxieties is now increasingly important for engagement. Individual challenges will affect the varying degrees of confidence in returning to the office and it is important to recognise that one size does not fit all.

A blended approach

The pandemic has removed the stigma of remote working, as we have all been forced to test it and many have found it works really well. However, there are benefits of face-to-face interaction, and arguably creating an engaged culture is amplified. A workplace is a social place where informal interactions between individuals can lead to creativity and innovation. Yet video call technology has challenged that thinking and opened up many different routes for sharing ideas and interacting with others. Working from home all the time is not necessarily a good thing and a blended approach is a way forward.

Culture - People need to feel that they are part of the organisation and part of the culture. Being in the office when it is necessary to do so and when the work requires it will enable people to benefit from the energy and engagement within the organisation. The right mix of people at the right time, so the benefits of people being in the business are felt.

Communication - Open and honest discussions and communication is critical for achieving a successful blended approach. Organisations and people within those organisations need the flexibility to decide what is best for the team and the individual.

Planning - Blended working means having a plan for completing the work that is needed to be done in the office or where you need to collaborate with your colleagues, or needed to be done at home. Individuals need to plan and prioritise their workload, taking responsibility for their own motivation, productivity and be trusted to do this.

Flexibility - Organisations need to be flexible to their teams but equally people need to be flexible. Employees need to reflect on how their pattern of work will reflect on the organisation and commitment to the organisation. If a team member asks to work from home on Mondays and Fridays, then there needs to be a reflection on the commitment to work and career.

There will be groups of people who cannot work from home. Many people in manufacturing, hospitality or front of house cannot work from home, so there is a need to justify the case for working from home or why it is not possible.  Leaders in organisations need to be brave and reasonable about where working from home works.

At Pure, we are bringing back a blended approach to work, where our team will spend time split between the office and home working. Supported with more technological capabilities such as Microsoft teams, it will enable our people to have a valuable mix of efficiencies with the technology available and face-to-face contact. Our people will manage their time and pace of work, recognising that it is not necessarily hours worked but output achieved.

Blended working may not work for everyone and it is not a new concept, but the pandemic has given the opportunity to test and try how it works for us as a business.

The future

Perhaps the world of work will return back to ‘normal’ and we will return to our long commutes, long hours and rushed lives.

However, the pandemic has forced us all to pause, test and challenge our approach and presented the opportunity to change the approach and do things differently.

We have all learnt lessons, particularly around leading, engaging and supporting people. As we continue to adopt the innovations, behaviours and new ways of working we can strive to offer our people a better quality of work and life and safely bring people back to the office physically and virtually.

Can we help you with your recruitment and people development strategies? Talk to our consultants today.

Written by

Judith Pugh

Judith has worked in marketing for 20 + years across a range of industries from health and fitness, horticulture, GIS software, education and now recruitment. Judith joined Pure in 2017 and is responsible for marketing the business, marketing strategy and delivering initiative campaigns.