Return of the Officeworker
The COVID-19 pandemic has seen the majority of organisations in Australia close offices and allow employees to work from home. With infection rates dropping and governments relaxing restrictions, officeworkers are considering making their way back to their corporate desks.
A staged return
For most businesses, the return to the office will be a gradual one. This may be driven by a number of factors , including:
- Preferences of individuals, where some have relished the opportunity to work in a less supervised way, with flexibility to choose the hours they work and avoid the time and cost of commuting to offices
- Restrictions imposed on the number of people that can use lifts in CBD high-rise buildings limited the number of people that can physically get to their offices without waiting in queues for hours
- Restrictions imposed on the number of people that can sit into a physical office space and still maintain adequate social distancing
- Health and safety concerns over having a full office of people who could all be potentially infected if an outbreak were to occur
Accordingly, decisions will need to be made about the steps and timing involved in a large-scale return to the office. This may involve utilising several teams (such as an A and a B team) for a period of time, whereby one team works in the office while the other team works at home, and then they swap. The disadvantage of this approach, is that team members will essentially need to work from two locations regularly, meaning they may need to set up dual offices or otherwise spend time transferring equipment and files from one place to another.
One staged model that could be considered is:
This would involve a period of time where the choice is up to the individual to decide what they would prefer, followed by a period where working from the office is encouraged and preferred, until a final stage of all workers returning to pre-pandemic conditions.
Some staff members may not want to return to the office
Employers and employees have found significant benefits and considerable challenges when forced to work from home at short notice. Some have found the level of distraction difficult to deal with, while others have relished the peace and quiet of home offices.
It is expected that at least some staff may not enjoy the idea of closer physical contact with co-workers, longer commute times, the cost, time and difficulty with social distancing required with public transport, or the increased level of supervision associated with working in sight of managers and supervisors.
Management should expect that there may be a level of resistance from individuals and be prepared for dealing with any reluctance to follow instructions.
Permanent working from home arrangements
Flexible working arrangements including working from home one or more days a week have been growing in popularity for years. The COVID-19 pandemic has provided an opportunity for many to get some real experience in this mode of working, both for employees and employers.
Employers stand to reduce not just office rent costs, but all the costs associated with running an office such as staff amenities, cleaning costs, maintenance costs and so forth.
Typical savings in rent alone have been quoted as around $2,000 per employee .
It is likely that with recent experiences, more and more employees and employers alike will choose to implement some form of permanent working from home arrangements. Probably the most common request will be for working from home one day per week.
The optimum  number of days per week to working from home certainly varies depending on the individual, organisation, type of work and specific circumstances, but it should be noted that there needs to be a balance that includes recognition of perceptions, feelings of isolation and team productivity.
Questions for Employers
- What is our return to office plan?
- How we will communicate this with our teams and to what extent will we involve them in the process?
- If we elect for a staged approach, what will those stages be and over what timeframes?
- Will we choose to offer additional flexible working arrangements post pandemic?
Questions for Employees
- How comfortable are you to return to work now, should you be requested to do so?
- What have you learnt about setting up your home offices and is there further work to do to make it better if there are further outbreaks and you will be required to do so?
- Do you want to request flexible working arrangements and if so, how many days a week do you think would suit you?
- If planning to continue working from home permanently, what strategies will you put in place to ensure focus, continued engagement with your team, avoiding distractions and keeping up productivity?