Return to the workplace: How can organizations safely navigate the next phase of the pandemic?

Return to the workplace: How can organizations safely navigate the next phase of the pandemic?

As lockdowns around the world are gradually eased and workplaces start to re-open, we speak to Peakon Chief People Officer Rick Kershaw about how organisations should approach this next, crucial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

What measures will organizations need to take in order to safely re-open workplaces?

There’s a huge amount to consider. Firstly, be aware that the official guidance differs from location to location, and is also changing at different speeds. This is important if, like ours, your organization has geographically spread office locations. Then it’s about figuring out how to return to each individual workspace while properly protecting the health, safety and wellbeing of your employees. That’s the number one priority. 

Considerations will include: 

  • Does the employee feel ready and able to return in any agreed capacity?
  • Can employees safely travel to the workplace? 
  • How will they move around the workspace, especially if a shared location?
  • How will social distancing measures or other restrictions impact the buildings’ capacity? Will teams need to return on a phased or rotational basis? 
  • What will seating plans look like? 
  • What additional hygiene practices will be needed? 
  • How can you make it comfortable and beneficial for people to work in? 

This list is by no means exhaustive. Every detail will require careful consideration so your people feel truly safe to return, and confident in the actions you have taken to take care of their health. Throughout the whole process, increased communication with your employees, along with added support for managers, will be crucial. 

How can leaders protect employee experience and company culture amid such times of change?

As with all major changes and disruptions, there’s a risk that – if executed poorly – a once-strong company culture could start to erode away. 

So, what we’ve done at Peakon is ask our employees what they want, and what will work best for them in their future of work. We expect that some people, for multiple reasons, will opt to continue working from home for a while longer, and that will absolutely have an impact – especially if we have multiple dynamics at play. But can you only develop culture in an office environment? Definitely not. We will simply have to adapt our approach to be remote first. 

There’s lots we can do, like continuing to build teams and communities through online events, and looking into creative collaboration workspaces. But culture is about more than that. It’s about how you celebrate and share successes, and build on the traditions that are foundational to Peakon. It’s about how we stay connected. So we will find, fine tune and cement all those mechanics accordingly. 

Peakon is a strong values based business, and our values permeate through. As we grow, and the world of work changes, we simply need to revisit and adjust what we do to ensure our values and our actions continue to go hand in hand. 

How can HR continue to support those still working from home?

The key is to make sure that everyone has the same or a similar experience. To avoid a growing feeling of inequity when some return to the workplace and others don’t, leaders need to continue to be compassionate and empathetic to those still working from home – perhaps still juggling childcare and family commitments too. 

Be really aware of things like meeting etiquette. Make sure that everyone has the chance to speak, especially if they are dialing in from home. Don’t have sidebar conversations that some people can’t hear. If you’re a manager, don’t just favor those in your eyeline. Work still needs to be allocated appropriately and fairly. Individuals will have a part to play too, and must continue to speak up about how they are feeling. 

The last thing we want is for people to feel like they got a bit lost on the way back. We want our people to have a great experience as they return to the office – excited to be reconnecting in whatever way makes the most sense for them. 

What’s the most important lesson you learned during this time that you’ll carry with you into the post-COVID working world? 

That’s easy: Give employees autonomy to do what works best for them – free from judgment. 

We really stuck to that when we started working remotely, allowing employees to figure out what was best for them, and just being there to say, ‘How can we support you to be as effective and productive in the way that’s most appropriate to your situation?’ It’s been heartening to witness the results. When you empower people to do what’s best for them, you get trust, loyalty and commitment in return.

What do you foresee as the biggest change to the future of work?

This pandemic has been horrible for so many reasons. But there’s been so many learnings too. 

With regards to remote working, it has opened Pandora’s box. The secret is out. Employees in many industries really can work in the way that is best for them – including remotely! It will give people permission to say, ‘I can do this job from here’, and has mythbusted the theory that for a business to succeed, everyone needs to be in one location. 

It’s a huge opportunity for organizations too, because this will in turn create a global talent economy, and allow companies greater flexibility in attracting and retaining the best talent.