Tips for flexible working: Adapting to the return to the office

Most businesses have called it: they’re going to be adapting to a flexible working environment in the upcoming months. That means the days of working in the office five days a week are long gone (at least, for now). With that in mind, Kavita Singh spoke with our Propolis Hive Expert for Teams, Resourcing and D&I, Maria Cameron, to reveal some top tips to adjusting to what looks to be the ‘new normal’.

Clearly communicate everything to staff

Maria said: “The businesses that are getting this right are the ones that have a real clarity on how this is going to work, so it’s not left for people to wonder certain questions such as: are they going to return to the same desk? What are the expectations of me moving forwards? This is communicated very clearly. The expectation for a lot of companies is that you will come into the office when it’s suggested or required, but you won’t be expected to be there.”

Providing very clear instructions to people takes away the worry of what it’s going to be like when they start coming back to the office. Companies are providing lots of information around cleaning regimes to ensure safety in the workplace. Back in the summer of 2020, we saw a slight return to the office, as companies were utilising safe work practices, such as providing hand sanitizers, strictly assigned seats and one-way signs to navigating the office.

Some companies even used ‘back to work wristbands’, which are bracelets designed to state social distancing comfort measures. For example, if there are green, red, and yellow bands, they can indicate each employee’s comfort levels with red meaning they’d like to social distance and green meaning they are a bit more comfortable with people approaching them. This tactic might be used in the future, perhaps with the wristbands meaning something different, such as ‘vaccinated’ and ‘unvaccinated’, for example.

These types of measures promote the two essential aspects to an employee’s return: their confidence and comfort being in the office.

Make meetings all inclusive

While marketers are still wrapping their heads around hybrid events, hybrid working is inevitable. That means that half of your team might be in the office and half might be working from home. When it was 100% remote for everyone, a sense of inclusiveness was a bit easier to achieve. Everyone was on the same playing field, doing post-work pub quizzes, company meetings and stand up calls from home.

If your team is having a meeting, and half the team are in the office sitting at a board table while a few people are tuning in via Zoom, it can be quite awkward, especially if there are materials being shown or something being written on a whiteboard.

Maria suggests that hosts really need to consider looking at behaviours at meetings. Should they structure them differently? Should the length of the meeting be amended? Another solution might be to make everyone on the same page, so either everyone tunes in virtually or all in-person.

Maria says: “It’s about redesigning the teamwork framework for hybrid working, which is very inclusive to people and recognises that you might not have everyone in the office.”

In many of these instances, it comes down to overcommunicating, specifically to your team.

She continues: “That is such a big driver. Teams have the opportunities to ask for support, how their projects are going, and, in terms of how work is structured, there is a big ask for leaders to be prioritising their projects more strategically.”

Consider reboarding staff

While some employees might’ve already started to ease their way back into the office, some probably haven’t been back in ages. Furloughed employees are being brought back into the fold, and some might be shifting from part-time to full-time.

The office might feel distant to them and the last thing you would want is for them to be walking on eggshells. Some companies are talking about reboarding existing employees coming back to the office. That means addressing details such as how to book the board room for a meeting, or how to access your computer login. These are all tiny details that staff might have forgotten about.

It’s also important to show empathy as many will need some time to adjust. Perhaps it can be as simple as allowing your team to get settled in during the first hour before hitting the ground with work, or it could be creating a call-to-action plan for the day.

Prioritise mental health for your employees

The CIPD’s Embedding new ways of working post-pandemic report shows that 40% of employers expect more than half their workforce to work regularly from home after the pandemic has ended. However, most employees have expressed interest in a hybrid workplace in the future.

Maria says: “People are talking a lot at my roundtables about burnout. Because, for marketers in particular, it’s not been a quiet time. They’ve had to pivot all their events, they’ve had to learn new tools and techniques, and, as we’ve gone to the hybrid world, some of those physical elements are starting to come back.”

So, managers and leaders really need to get ruthless on their prioritisation and how they structure the work. There's a lot of tools and systems to use, but I think having those one-on-one meetings with your team members is going to be key.”

It’s important to check in with your employees on a one-on-one basis to see how they feel about easing their way back to the office. In addition, allow your employees to use flexibility to their advantage as well. For some people, working in the office leads to more productivity, while, for others, it’s quite the opposite. The upside of flexible working is that your employees can adjust their environment to their working style.

Maria says: “The biggest benefit is that when they’re not stuck on Zoom calls, they’ve got a bit more quiet time for thinking. A lot of offices are quite noisy. If you have to sit down and do creative work, it’s much easier to do it in your own space.”

Propolis: Teams & Resourcing

Want to find out more about building relationships with your community? Join our community hub and find out loads about recruitment alignment structure skills and competencies career pathways!

Check out the teams & resourcing hive!

Propolis Hive: Teams and resourcing