With lockdown restrictions eased, some employees have begun returning to their place of work. Even those who can continue to work from home for the time being will now be considering when they might be returning to the workplace – and what that might look like. Well, it’s likely to look and feel quite different, particularly as most employers will be introducing strict measures to maintain safe social distancing.  

Proposed measures include the end of hot-desking, no use of canteens, staggered shifts, and two-metre distancing enforced with floor tape. Employees will be advised to avoid sharing pens and to steer clear of face-to-face meetings. There’s even been talk of new workplace tech that  triggers a warning if employees stand too close together. Socialising with colleagues – a core part of company culture – will certainly look a lot different.

These suggested safety measures will bring about yet more drastic change, leaving leaders with a new predicament: How will they retain and reinvigorate the workplace atmosphere? 

Reinforce the connection

One of the positive trends to emerge from lockdown is a greater emphasis on team connectedness. News of businesses finding new and creative ways to bring teams together through online initiatives has been encouraging. For example, one of our customers set up a company radio station to help employees feel connected. Our own global Peakon team participated in a 26-hour marathon Zoom meeting to raise money for The Global FoodBanking Network.

It’s been heartening to see innovative comradery among employees, and it’s important that leaders continue to encourage this when we return to our places of work. During the transition period, when employees start to trickle back, employers will need to be careful to communicate regularly and clearly to both those in the workplace and those still working at home. They must stick with the online meetings and events and use messaging apps to ensure remote workers don’t become isolated or feel out of the loop. We’re fortunate that technology helps us stay connected when we’re apart. Employers should continue to embrace this throughout the next stage of this journey.

Ensure values are fit for purpose 

A company’s culture is built on its values, beliefs, attitudes, and the relationships colleagues share. Over the past few months, organisations have gone through a turbulent experience together. Some employees will be keen to get back to ‘normal’, but others will want to reflect upon the experience, and what it has taught them.  

Attitudes and approaches to work have shifted during this time. For example, we’re definitely witnessing a fresh emphasis on employee wellbeing. It’s becoming clear to more leaders that, without wellbeing, you simply can’t have an engaged, productive and successful workforce. So, it’s worth taking a fresh look at your company values to ensure they reflect the new world of work. Business leaders should ask employees for their feedback on the experience and what they learnt from working through this crisis. They may find common themes crop up. In which case, organisations should consider finding a way to enshrine these in their values.

Make sure employees have a voice and are heard

These have been, and will continue to be, uncertain times for all businesses. Employees will look to their leaders for guidance and reassurance on how their company will keep them safe, protect their wellbeing, and formulate plans on business continuity.

The importance of clear communication at this time cannot be overstated. Employees will be cognisant of the risks of returning to the workplace and employers should give them as much information as possible. They must also keep lines of communication open and commit to addressing employees’ concerns quickly. Remember that actions speak louder than words. This will be key to maintaining employee confidence and a positive workplace environment.

There’s also an opportunity here for organisations to strengthen their long term relationship with their employees. By communicating frequently, in an open, transparent and timely manner, employers can demonstrate the care and respect they have for their people.

As many have said, Covid-19 is set to change the way we work forever. Not only will our work habits change, but economic recovery is likely to take time – with many businesses fighting for survival. Against this difficult backdrop, fine tuning company culture will be an important way to ensure employees remain engaged with work – and the company remains successful as a result. 



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