As more and more businesses return to the office, we’re all going to have to get used to seeing colleagues in the flesh again, regardless of how flexible your working policy is. This can be extremely stressful from a managerial perspective as well as from a personal one. The pandemic is still not completely over (as much as we’d all hoped), and it makes sense that some of your team would have reservations about returning to a busy commuter lifestyle and a crowded workspace. Thankfully, there are lots of adjustments you can make to render this process more friendly for everyone.
1. Build an inclusive virtual community
Being in an office together, in person, has a lot of benefits. One of the main ones is the feeling of camaraderie that just can’t be imitated when you’re not physically with others. However, there are some steps you can take to maximise this feeling no matter where your employees are based. The important part is to make sure you’re catering for those in the office and out of it in the same way. You don’t want your remote workers to feel like they’re being treated differently. Snacks, IT equipment, maybe even Friday drinks are all perks and tools that you likely provide to those working from your premises. So equalising your benefits is crucial to enable everyone to feel included.
Creating this sense of community that transcends physical location is not easy — but it can be done. Every employee should receive one-on-one time with their manager, so they feel listened to. Don’t just resign to hosting office parties, but set up virtual mixers to include your off-site workers, too. You can take it a step further by providing everyone with goody bags with a drink or a snack. It’s vital that these packages arrive in time, so consider partnering up with a trustworthy courier that can deliver them on the same day to avoid any delays (and goods going off). CitySprint, for example, has a special priority service “for urgent deliveries, when even same day isn’t fast enough”. It’s a great way to boost morale without leaving anyone out.
2. Adjust your meetings
When everyone’s always in the office, holding meetings is very simple — you just gather the people who need to attend and find somewhere to sit. With a hybrid working policy in place, however, it becomes slightly more complicated. The first thing to consider is which gatherings are absolutely necessary and which ones you can live without, where an email will suffice. In order to cut down to the bare essentials, you’ll need to streamline your processes. For example, investing in a project management tool that will allow you to send briefs, keep track of your team’s work, and reduce administrative tasks can transform your operations. We recommend Asana or Trello, but there are so many software packages on the market, so you just need to search for the best one for your business. Using these apps, you can ensure your employees have all the information they need to complete their work independently.
So, you’ve pruned out unnecessary meetings and replaced them with a rational and efficient process. But there are still going to be some essential conferences and, as such, thinking about how to conduct them in an inclusive manner is key. Ask each participant to log in from their own computer, no matter if some are on the same premises. This way, whether you’re on- or off-site, you can see and hear everything. Even though we all like to say hello to a sneaky pet coming into the frame, let your team know they’re not obligated to have their camera on. Many of your employees will be working from small flats that they share with partners or housemates, sometimes in less-than-ideal conditions, and you don’t want to add an extra layer of stress to their day. Perhaps most importantly, try to keep your meetings structured and avoid any rambling. Schedule them in advance, attach an agenda, and make sure every gathering is focused on one topic. It’s much harder to sit through a conference call for three hours than it is face-to-face, so be conscious of that.
3. Share the calendar
Speaking of meetings, finding a good time for them when people are also working from home can be a pain. Sometimes you can’t see what your team has scheduled in their diary, and your workers can’t see each other’s calendars either. Mitigating the impact of a hybrid working policy calls for greater transparency, especially if you have a large workplace that requires multi-member conference calls. The simplest way to reduce admin is to just share the calendars, allowing people in your business to see when others are free so they can slot in a date and time in their diary without an endless back-and-forth on availability.
Beyond just transparency, calendars are becoming increasingly significant for a business implementing a hybrid model, so it’s essential to unify your schedules so that everyone is using the same tools. But choosing one calendar app for everyone when you don’t have a policy of this sort can be a bit intimidating. So, before you drop a decision like that from nowhere, research what software your team currently uses, and consider the different pros and cons of common e-calendars. This can really keep your company smooth-running without much effort.
4. Keep a COVID-19 policy in place
At the end of the day, you want to get people into the office, even if only sometimes. In order to accommodate for that, however, you have to make it safe and carry out the appropriate risk assessments. While it’s impossible to get any place completely 100% COVID safe, having a well-thought-out policy is not only essential but also legally required. According to government guidelines, even though businesses are now allowed to fully open, “employers still have a legal duty to manage risks to those affected by their business”. It’s recommended that you “carry out a health and safety risk assessment, including the risk of COVID-19, and to take reasonable steps to mitigate the risks you identify”.
The obvious steps are hiring professional cleaning staff on a regular basis, providing your employees with cleaning products to maintain their workspaces, and improving air-flow in poorly ventilated areas. You should also make it clear to your workers that if they feel unwell, no matter what, they should stay home with no consequences from you. These are the basics, but you can go further by requiring a negative lateral flow test on entry (your team can get them free of charge) and encouraging them to wear masks and get vaccinated as soon as possible. You can also check if there’s any pop-up or walk-in vaccination centres nearby your office, and organise a voluntary trip there for your staff who want to get jabbed. Whatever you do, make sure to communicate this to your team and show them you genuinely care about their safety. If you need any more ideas, check the HSE website for COVID workplace guidelines.