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How to return to the office (and keep your workers happy)

Increasing footfall, more cars on the road and busier train stations can only mean one thing: the world of work is opening up once again. But whether it will ever open up to the same level as before the pandemic is still to be determined. While many employees are desperate to get back to their office so that they can be alongside their colleagues, plenty are relishing the opportunity to work from home, while others are anxious about returning to work while COVID-19 cases remain in circulation and vaccination is ongoing.

That raises numerous concerns for employers, who have to balance their priorities carefully in order to ensure staff members remain happy while returning safely and effectively to their offices. At Healthy Nibbles, we believe that with just a few simple tips we can help to make the return to office transition easier. 


What effect has the pandemic had on work? 

As COVID-19 struck, the impact was immediate. Cities ground to a halt almost overnight, with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordering people to stay at home. For many office workers up and down the country, that meant taking their laptops from the office and plugging in at home. All of a sudden, broadband speeds were being tested, home offices crafted from any space available and family members stuck together in the same room for hours – often on mute. Just one month into the pandemic, in April 2020, it was found from ONS data that 47% of people in employment did some work at home. Fast forward eleven months to March 2021 and that figure had risen to 60%.

The data suggests that employees like their new way of working, while employers have also been able to find benefits. Employers which previously discouraged remote working for fear of crashing productivity soon found that tools such as video conferencing allowed for jobs to be done just as well – and sometimes even better – from home. A Barclays study found that 46% of employers support working from home as a way of improving flexibility for all, 41% for reducing commute times and 34% for better work-life balance which subsequently helps retention. Costs are reduced for both employee and employer, with employers able to downgrade office space and employees no longer having to shell out for travel and buying fewer lunches out. 

Simply put, WFH is here to stay. 


People Power 

Employees have had a taste of working from home – and they like it. Two-thirds of Brits believe they are more productive when working from home, while high job turnover in the US suggests that employers which refuse to offer their employees the opportunity to work from home are likely to see a draining of talent. Indeed, research by VOX EU found that four in ten Americans who currently work from home at least once a week would actively seek a new job if their employer ordered them back to the office on a full-time basis. It’s for just this reason that McKinsey believes ‘hybrid models of remote work are likely to persist in the wake of the pandemic, mostly for a highly educated, well-paid minority of the workforce.'  


The Future of the Office 

Few jobs are possible to do completely remotely. While employers have made the best of the tough conditions over the previous eighteen months, it’s remained tough to replicate the creativity, spontaneity and team-building nature of the office over Zoom (especially when employees have their camera off, accidentally share their screens while watching cat videos during meetings and talk on mute). The impromptu chats that lead to exciting opportunities, the pieces of gossip on the tea run, even the office’s ability to combat loneliness, have all been missed. 

But how to ensure a safe hybrid model of working while cases remain in circulation?  

Making a Safe Return 

The Government guidelines are in place to help every single one of us go about our lives with the highest possible levels of safety. Following them is essential to ensuring we can overcome the pandemic safely. Just as important, the cleanliness of the office is essential. Surfaces should be wiped, communal areas closely cleaned and employees should sanitise or wash their hands regularly. Where possible, employees should also socially distance when in the office. This can be reinforced by reconfiguring your office space to ensure there is enough room between desks.  

Returning to the office is a big change for many workers, who may not feel that they have adapted to working from home. Rather than command them to come in on a set number of days straight away, why not start small and gradually progress their time in the office as they feel more comfortable? If your end goal is to have workers in the office three days per week, start asking them to come in once a week and build up slowly. Tallying this approach with flexible hours for workers, whereby they can choose to come in later or earlier than 9am., for example, will empower your workers and make them feel like you have their best interests at heart.  

Introducing flexible perks and wellbeing support will also help employees to feel valued regardless of whether they are working in the office or remotely. Perks can be distributed in the office through our Micro Markets and Vending, or at home through snack boxes sent direct through the post. Whether working from home or in the office, flexible perks are one surefire way to keep team morale high following the pandemic, especially when supported with wellbeing support and engagement activities.

Returning to the office and making sure that all employees feel they are being listened to is not an easy process, but with the above tips, alongside open and honest communication, employers can help to maintain positive relationships with their workers that will help to make their return as safe as possible.  

For more information on employee health and wellbeing, read more about our wellbeing strategy consultation and our other healthy business solutions.