The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, is encouraging people to physically get back into the office, suggesting that being in the office rather than home-working will help to advance their careers. This rallying cry has been met with a mixed response. Some businesses and workers claim that he’s “out of touch” and regressive while others agree with the value of being in the office for building relationships and nurturing workplace culture. Whatever your view as a HR professional, it’s clear that the Government is keen to see more workers in the office rather than at home and who knows what ‘encouragement’ and incentives they may dangle to make this happen. But are you ready should all or most of your colleagues return to the office? What are the practical implications and how should you be preparing?

The goalposts are changing

Current Government guidance has suggested a phased return to work since 19 July with many companies taking a cautious approach. However, it appears that the Government is getting increasingly impatient with the slow transition of people back into the workplace and Rishi Sunak is giving a rallying cry for more workers, especially younger workers to move from homeworking to office-based work, claiming that it’s better for career progression. In an interview with LinkedIn News, the Chancellor spoke of his own experience of being a new starter in the finance industry, doubting that he would have done as well if he had been forced to do so virtually.

Research is also raising concerns about the impact of homeworking on the economy, with insights from the University of Nottingham suggesting that if just half of the workers work remotely two days per week, it would result in a 20 per-cent drop in potential demand for local services, significantly affecting the viability of these services. Such findings will undoubtedly inform how the Government approaches homeworking moving forward, perhaps providing businesses with incentives for encouraging more people back into the office.

The practicalities of a return to the office

As a HR professional, you’re probably relieved if your company has approached returning to the office cautiously. In fact, many organisations are still prioritising working from home with others anticipating a permanent hybrid model of working. However, how prepared are you for workers returning to the office? And what would be the implications if all or most of your employees returned? For instance, where will everyone sit if social distancing is still being observed and how do you prevent overcrowded offices and anxious staff? It’s in HR professionals’ interests to work closely with the facilities/operations teams right now to ensure the logistics of getting people safely back into the office have been carefully thought through.

Here are some key considerations:

Configuration of the office –  How many desks can you safely fit into the space available if you’re maintaining social distancing? Do you need to reconfigure meeting rooms and communal spaces?

Coordinating the movement of your people – It’s important to carefully consider and coordinate the movement of people in and out of the office so people feel safe. Do you need one-way systems and cordoned-off spaces to support social distancing? After all, if anxious employees turn-up to the office on their first day back and the office is overcrowded, how likely is it that they will return? HR will then have to manage the inevitable fallout.

Desk and facilities booking – With office capacity a consideration, staff won’t be able to turn-up on a whim and expect a desk to be available for them.  It’s likely that HR, in partnership with facilities managers, will have to turn to the right tech to support the management of offices and people in a hybrid world, such as desk management software.

Such software means that you don’t have to rely on email calendars to arrange bookings for desks and meeting rooms, which can be error-prone, time-consuming and doesn’t provide a holistic view of who is in the office at any one time. 

A designated desk management solution ensures employees can easily book desks, facilities and even car parking spaces in advance of them attending the office. Employees will obviously feel less anxious knowing that when arriving at the office they will have a clean socially-distanced desk waiting for them and from the employer’s point of view, there is an overview of exactly who is in each office at any one time, ensuring overcrowding doesn’t take place while supporting track and trace.

A final word

As employees are being encouraged back into the office, it’s vital that HR facilitates a safe and stress-free return. Considering the practicalities of a physical return are key and will help to ensure a smooth transition so that staff feel cared for and considered at every stage. HR must work in partnership with the facilities/operations team to make this happen, while ensuring the right supporting technologies are in place.

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