With September upon us, many will be facing the question of returning to the office – or not. Many firms have been conducting employee surveys in recent weeks/months to gauge sentiment on getting back to office life. Not surprisingly, many employees have expressed concern, not about the office necessarily, but often and specifically about the commute – especially in larger cities like London where most will also have to use public transport.
However, while there are understandable fears, it can be easy to overlook the good number of people who are eager to get back to some level of normality. This is particularly the case for more junior employees who need more support from managers and colleagues to develop their roles and embed their careers. But there are plenty of people at all levels who are keen to get back to the human interaction that the home office and any number of Zoom calls can’t supply.
So here’s our guidance for understanding what to expect from returning to the office:
1. Some offices have already welcomed a limited number of people back. But for most September is the first meaningful return date, with a 25% to 30% occupancy expected. It’s going to feel different but remember everyone is finding their way, just like you. Find out exactly what will be expected in advance of your return date, thoroughly read any return-to-office ‘welcome packs’ or policies, and then give yourself time to adapt to the new look and feel of your office space. It will be exciting and positive to see friends and colleagues after so long.
2. If you are concerned about public transport, then see if your firm is offering staggered start/finish times that will reduce congestion. And then ensure you have a mask and hand sanitiser to hand.
3. Firms are employing different policies to ensure the safety of their staff. Masks may need to be worn in communal areas, kitchens may feel very bare, there may be one-way systems in place, and you may well need to use some kind of app to log in and out of the office so that managers know exactly how many people are in and where they’re located. It may feel strange, but we tend to adapt very quickly to such changes so try and go with the flow.
4. For some time, there will be a mix of people working in the office while others are still at home. This could be tricky – ensure communication lines remain open and don’t form an office clique that ignores those who can’t as yet join you.
5. Most people are likely to return to the office in a part-time capacity – three days a week sounds fairly common although we’ve also heard of firms considering ideas such as allowing employees to work 10 days per month from home, leaving them to choose the days to best suit them. Whatever your firm’s approach, get organised so that you are ready to mix it up, and get the most out of the days when you are either at home or in the office. You may find the regular change of scene helps to improve your focus and productivity. Certainly, many of us are now sick of the sight of our own four walls!
6. Be honest and give your manager/s feedback on what you think is working and what isn’t. Firms spent a lot of time during lockdown prioritising employee wellbeing – this should only be more important now as things change once more. If there is something that is giving you anxiety, voice your concerns. Chances are you won’t be the only one to feel that way and while firms can’t remove the need for social distancing, there will be inevitable teething problems to reopening offices that can be fixed.
We’ve all had to adapt a lot in this strange year of Covid. Once more now, the sands are shifting and none of us are certain of what lies ahead. But we have all proved how well we can cope with change. So for those of you heading back to the office in the weeks ahead, stay safe, follow the guidelines and enjoy the opportunity to reconnect.