How To Maintain Workforce Productivity In The Transition Back To The Office
The coronavirus pandemic has caused a year full of disruption, both in our personal and professional lives. Companies all over the UK were forced to close their offices in-line with government restrictions and 57% of all employees were told to work from home.
The work from home transition has been a success for some, allowing for greater flexibility and a better work-life balance, and has saved huge financial costs for businesses in terms of office and travel expenses. But many employees have struggled too, with cramped make-shift work spaces, juggling homeschool and being without necessary equipment.
Unsurprisingly, the emotional and mental impacts of Covid-19 have been difficult to manage alongside any unrealistic expectations that work can continue as normal. The distractions and uncertainty that go hand-in-hand with a global pandemic have caused productivity levels to drop - along with staff wellbeing.
Research by Opinium shows that 34% of employees that are working from home are struggling with their mental health. This is a concerning statistic that questions whether there has been enough mental health support in place for employees during the pandemic. With employees working remotely, it’s easy to slip under the radar without the regular face-to-face contact that’s available in the office, and it’s been revealed that 46% of people have felt isolated during this time.
Many businesses were not prepared for this overnight change in the 9-5 working day or ever envisioned the workforce would be able to function efficiently in remote locations. The pandemic has made this a possibility - and opened the eyes of many employers, who once shut down the idea of flexible working.
However, the shift to remote working hasn’t necessarily been plain sailing for businesses, and many have experienced company-wide cyber security threats and health and safety dilemmas.
Whilst the coronavirus pandemic has impacted productivity levels, people have had a lengthy period of time to adjust to this way of working and adopt a different routine - which has become the new normal for many. But with the government roadmap now in place, there is an end in sight and life is set to reopen to its pre-pandemic state again on 21st June. So what does this mean for businesses and employees that are set to return back to the office?
It falls on management to navigate the return back to the office and ensure it’s as smooth as possible for their employees. After the stress from the past year, it’s important for management to handle this ‘return to normal’ with empathy, and recognise that no one employee has had the same experience during the pandemic.
It’s unrealistic to expect that the work environment will slot back into pre-coronavirus times; there will need to be an adjustment period to help all staff adapt yet again to a different way of working, post-pandemic. Whilst some employees will be excited to return back to the office again (having missed the routine and social interaction), reverting back to early alarms, in-person meetings, daily commutes, less flexible hours and work formalities again will pose its own challenges.
As the transition back to the office draws nearer, here are some important steps to help management maintain productivity levels at work:
Communication and planning
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to office-working and not all employees will feel ready to do so either - it lands on management to reassure the team. Effective and open communication will be key to ensure that everyone feels comfortable and safe in their return to the office, once the timing is right. Detailing any health and safety guidelines, and putting coronavirus considerations in place (where applicable) will reduce any anxieties.
Flexible working hours
Rather than jumping straight into the structured 8 hour working day, Monday to Friday, a flexible approach to these hours will feel less overwhelming for employees and help to aid a gentle transition period into the office, after months of restricted social interactions.
Adding social events to the work calendar will help bond the team again after being apart for so long, in a more relaxed social setting - as well as help to integrate and welcome any new hires since the pandemic. As well as the office perks, social events are a chance for management to show employees that they are valued, and all their work since the pandemic hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Tools and equipment
It’s crucial that all the equipment and office supplies are prepared and set-up before employees arrive at the workplace; this will ensure that they can focus on their work tasks straight away, rather than chasing up the office manager on the first day back.
Set realistic goals and expectations
Review (and set) realistic goals for every employee as they return to the workplace, so you can both evaluate whether they are performing well or not - and grasp exactly how this transition is impacting their productivity. Helping employees to create goals that are clear and achievable will ensure that they have something to work towards and focus on.
Whilst the government guidelines for returning back to the office are still somewhat hazy, talks of what the new ‘working life’ will look like post-Covid are circulating. Anticipation is high for the months ahead and by following these steps, management can ensure that workplace productivity is maintained.