What comes next?
Why we all need to talk about the post-lockdown workplace
One year on from the culture shock of life under lockdown, it’s time to brace ourselves for the next phase of disruption. Otherwise known as life returning to normal. That’s if we really know what ‘normal’ is any more, particularly when it comes to the world of work.
Working remotely has become a way of life for millions. But it’s a way of life that is now poised for another seismic shift in the months to come. Once the rules change and people start returning to the office.
The easing of lockdown will be just as much, if not more, of a challenge for businesses as entering it. The glue holding it all together will be internal communications. With key roles to play in everything from initial planning and getting buildings ready to reassuring staff. Employees may still be nervous about a return to the office. Internal communications will also be preparing managers to handle the inevitable issues that will arise along the way.
What comes next?
Although the official advice is to continue working from home wherever possible, the end of the lockdown tunnel is now in sight. So it’s time to start planning for what comes next. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to adjust or entirely reinvent your workplace strategies. Reflect on what you have learnt during the pandemic and decide what your ‘new normal’ looks like.
What is the New Normal?
- Will you have everyone back in the office all day, every day, for example? Or is it time to embrace the benefits of flexible working? Reduce overheads and attract and retain a wider pool of talent?
- Flexible hours have been necessary during the pandemic to work around inflexible commitments such as childcare. But are flexible hours that sustainable for your particular business in the longer term?
- Can your teams work effectively if people are in different locations permanently for part of the week?
Time to start communicating
It’s vital to start communicating some of this thinking to your workforce as soon as possible. People will be experiencing a range of different emotions at the prospect of further upheaval.
You don’t need to have all the answers right now – the important thing is to keep the lines of communication open and don’t leave your work force in the dark. And it’s crucial that it’s a two-way process, so that everyone feels able to raise any issues that crop up.
Hurdles to overcome
The list of uncertainties surrounding the return to whatever ‘new normal’ you opt for in the workplace is long. The one certainty is that there will be hurdles to overcome along the way.
- Many individuals will be eager to get out of the house and return to their old office routines and be reunited with their colleagues. But others will be very nervous and reluctant to return, particularly if they have been shielding, and will be dreading the months to come.
- People may struggle with the idea of resuming their daily commute and working fixed office hours after a year of flexibility. If they’re caring for children or other family members, they may need reassurance and help to adjust to what will seem at first a very different way of life. Others may be concerned about where they will be expected to work – if you’re planning a hybrid workforce, some individuals may not have a suitable space at home for long-term remote working. The kitchen table may have sufficed for the emergency of a global pandemic – but it’s not a healthy or practical long-term way of working.
- Don’t be surprised if productivity takes a dip when people first get back to the office – your employees will have a lot of catching up to do when they are reunited with their colleagues. Communicating in advance about this will help smooth the transition. And try to build some social time into your back-to-work schedules to minimise the disruptive effect on the business.
- It will also be vital to check on employee wellbeing. Even once things seem to have settled down, to ensure there are no hidden issues that are not being communicated. If people are permanently working from home for part of the week, for example, they may find it difficult to switch off – so watch out for any trend towards online presenteeism. And think about, and communicate, your expectations around things like annual leave – which is likely to have been accruing during lockdown.