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Returning to Work – Part 1: What Does ‘Returning To The Office’ Mean To Your Staff?

30 second summary:

The return to co-located office working has well and truly begun in the UK. Most restrictions have lifted and the vaccine programme continues to roll out.

Part 1 of our series provides insight to what this return means for staff, and some key messages to think about throughout the transition.

In our 3-part series about what the new workplace looks like, we have spoken with a number of clients across the UK and EU to understand what companies are doing differently to share some key learnings.

The new normal

Whilst governments try to contain the R rate through changing degrees of lockdown, businesses and organisations are trying to create a new normal under which they can operate as collectives.

“What are you doing differently to bring your people back together?” I asked clients at the end of August. Sincere thanks to the two dozen, mainly from the UK and EU, who kindly replied.

Some key messages you may find helpful:

  1. Businesses sense the need to communicate their confidence to ramp-up to what they recognise will be a “new normal”.
  2. Many are in discussions with staff around some degree of return to co-located working. What that will look like and how it might blend with some home-working is part of the discussion.
  3. Many see the need to transition - both mentally and in terms of skills - those being brought back to partial or full work after a furlough of several months.
  4. For many, the deepest fear around returning to office-working is that of public transport - necessary to get to and from offices once co-located working resumes
  5. Leaders are learning to operate with the agility demanded by shortened time-scales given the “start/stop” imposed by local lockdowns and travel restrictions.
  6. For all except fully-fledged on-line businesses (including data centres), uncertainty is the greatest challenge, making it extremely hard to plan.

For sure, some degree of “return to offices” repeats across sectors: engineering consultancies, fire-safety and security companies, manufacturers, facilities management, executive education establishments, law firms, government departments, global luxury-brands.

How they do this depends on how ready people are to return to offices. Many see “massive contrasts”:

  1. A strong move to get back to office working – with precautions in place (social distancing, masks, capped numbers)
  2. A real fear to venture back into offices – irrespective of precautions

Perhaps lessons can be drawn from strong re-entry plans based on risk assessments made by primary schools in anticipation of welcoming students back to school after the summer break?

As always, we’re interested to hear about your experiences, so please do let us know about your plans to return to the workplace – or perhaps to embrace a complete step-change in how your company operates.

Of course, if you’d like a chat about how we at Rathbone Results might be able to help your leaders through their workplace transition, we’d be delighted to speak with you.

Cora Lynn Heimer Rathbone

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