Editor: With Freedom Day now behind us, there is no question that the Covid blues seem to be clearing. Most eager for a return to normality is the office sector, with many operators welcoming staff back to the physical workspace with open arms. 

Elbow bump Covid office greeting

Source: Shutterstock / Reshetnikov art

However, as detailed in Property Week last week, the extent of this return has been less than consistent, in part due to a lack of guidance from the government.

Despite this, there are steps businesses can and should take to manage a safe return to the office in lieu of a governmental plan.

First, remove barriers to entry.OSiT’s recently conducted ‘The Home Commute’ survey explored the impact of remote working on employees and their desires to return to the office. Notably, 84% of home workers said they were keen to return to office working once vaccinated and 75% said their company had maintained its offices throughout the pandemic.

Businesses must look to make the process of returning as frictionless as possible. This means ensuring sufficient PPE is readily available for all employees, developing a clear rota system (if needed) for staff to visit the office and being flexible about individuals’ preferred work styles, whether that be office full time or a hybrid model.

Second, look after employees’ mental wellbeing. Such an extended period of remote working has had profoundly negative mental health impacts on workers. OSiT’s survey showed that 51% of workers felt lockdown negatively affected their mental health and 37% reported suffering from anxiety or depression while working remotely during the third lockdown.

Employers must offer proper support services to staff if they are to keep them happy and productive.

Finally, consider the ‘worker wishlist’. Ultimately, facilitating a successful return to the office starts with the employee. Making them feel safe and that their personal commitments are respected have been highlighted as key to a smooth transition.

In fact, when asked what would make them feel most confident and safe to return, 56% cited flexible hours to avoid peak commute times and hand sanitiser provided at desks; 48% wanted sneeze screens to be implemented; and 40% requested temperature checks on arrival.

Recognising staff personal commitments is a must, too, with 44% of respondents wanting to work in a hybrid way over the next six to 12 months and 72% planning to spend between one and four days per week in the office.

So, for businesses looking to facilitate a successful return to the office, demonstrating care for employee wellbeing and a recognition of how their personal schedules interact with working life will go a long way to giving them the confidence and security to return.

Niki Fuchs, managing director, Office Space in Town

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