As UK vaccination numbers continue to climb and restrictions loosen, we can tentatively look forward to getting back to our office desks. Employers are likely to be preparing new work policies as they consider what flexible models mean for their businesses.
It is a potentially sensitive time for staff. While some might be eager to work with their colleagues face to face again, others may be feeling anxious about a return to the commute.
But managers know the value of working in the office and the essential role it plays in supporting team culture. So how can they reassure employees who are nervous about the transition?
Listening to employees’ feedback and reflecting it in new policies within the realm of what is possible is key. Providing certainty is also important, particularly when the rest of our lives have been so disrupted. Give people a clear roadmap and stick to it.
Crucially, employers need to consider the office environment that teams are going back to. Is it fit for purpose now? Last year proved that working from home is possible – if not desirable – five days a week. In this context, the office has to be a destination that supports employees to do their job well – one that lives up to its reputation as an enabler of team camaraderie, ideas sharing and productivity, too.
Businesses recognise this change in the office’s role. We carried out research that showed that one in three said they needed more collaborative workspaces, while 89% acknowledged that space should be more adaptable now; able to switch between uses. But what organisations must not lose sight of is how central connectivity and technology are to these goals. The digital infrastructure in a workplace unlocks everything – from in-person brainstorms and meetings to dialling in homeworkers and video calls in the office.
Managing space effectively will be key to achieving the vision of a more flexible, co-operative working environment. If people come in to collaborate with others, then they need well-equipped meeting areas in which to do that. Making sure that room-booking systems are up to scratch and easy to use will be important. So too will be ensuring consistent wifi signal across the workplace. The pandemic showed that work can be done effectively in less formal settings, and so the connectivity has to be in place to facilitate that choice for people; depending on the task in hand, some may prefer to work in the staff canteen with laptops than at their desks.
With increasingly flexible employment patterns, and the demand for more connected offices as a result, comes an imperative to review cybersecurity procedures and protect business continuity. Staff training may be required to keep information safe, whether people work at home or in the office. Audits of internet-enabled devices may also be needed to confirm they remain secure.
As organisations thrash out their new working models, they have to ensure that connectivity is front and centre and start planning ahead now.
It typically takes three months or more to get fibre installed in workplaces. Employees don’t want to return to the office only to find that the tech is better at home.
David McLeod is co-founder of Backbone Connect