Return-to-workplace strategies

Inflexion has been running a series of webinars to help share best practice across our portfolio and from our Network so that the companies we partner with can benefit from hearing about others’ experiences, share ideas and initiatives and support each other.

The practicalities of returning to the office are mission critical for firms preparing to phase employees back into an office environment. Inflexion's Talent Director Cordelia Dolan spoke with our Network and portfolio and learnt that post lockdown, organisations are unlikely to return to the previous ways of working. There will be a need to make significant changes in multiple areas including property, working practices, culture, HR policies and approach, as well as the role of the manager and the employee. Learning from different companies and countries coming out of lockdown will be fundamental.   

“Many firms have made the huge leap to full remote working, and most of them have now started to execute a back-to-office strategy and how to work with Covid-19 going forward,” says Cordelia, adding that the unprecedented and constantly changing landscape means experience and ideas sharing among the 47-strong portfolio is very helpful.

Katrina Stewart, partner from HR, recruitment and search specialist The Oakleaf Partnership, feels the transition to home working was the easy bit – phasing back into work will be a lot harder. “The health and safety (for office-based workers) is very challenging. We are working with one client which is looking at having category teams and category individuals. Their 70 teams across London offices are categorised from A to D, with A deemed critical and needed in the office and D less critical to be present.” This categorisation is also being applied to individuals within teams. A staff are critical and can most safely commute in by walking or cycling, while D may be less critical physically, and/or relies on public transport, and/or is someone with a partner working full-time and with childcare considerations.

You could be a category A team but a category D person. “This strategy will help the firm to maintain social distancing. Rather than a blanket rule, it is really individualised, and the feedback is very positive,” Katrina says.

This will be different for a manufacturing firm, where she says new initiatives include temperature checks, a supply of PPE and shift patterns put in place. “Instead of working 9am to 5pm over five days, you may do three longer days, or six shorter ones,” she explains.

Another telco company that Cordelia spoke with commented that going forward the office will be a place for coming together, culture building, team work and innovation, but much work will be done from home on more of a two-day, three-day ratio. This needs to be monitored and measured over time for productivity, but also for mental health. Cordelia points out, “we see introverts flourishing during this time and taking a lot of energy from within, whereas after two months of lockdown, extroverts are starting to struggle with a lack of human interaction as they find their energy comes from socialising out and about with others.”

Being and feeling safe is key

Liz Barrett, Managing Director of Integration and HR at London Stock Exchange Group, talks us through the LSE’s plan for returning to work.

“It will be phased and in very small numbers and we plan to test and learn with the first cohort,” she says, explaining this should allow them to work through social distancing, toilet facilities, canteens etc. “We’ll monitor and see how that cohort is feeling and see if we need to adapt. It is a collaborative effort between HR, risk, tech, property – we need to mobilise the entire team and leverage the brainpower of all those people to create an environment which is safe and feels safe.”

This need to feel safe is important. “We must balance the workplace with physical and mental wellbeing, and we are making judgments on whether some roles are critical and whether they need to be done in the office. Then we are overlaying it with our workers’ ability to come into work, taking into account their individual considerations around commute as well as childcare or vulnerable people.” Mapping this out requires some very personal interviews to determine whether people are ‘fit’ to come into the office and is difficult as it requires balancing office needs with people’s safety.

The role of managers is critical. “They’ve been learning how to manage remote performance and have done a good job about setting discipline. We now need them to get into discussions about their teams’ personal lives. Some will do this very well and some will not; we will need to provide HR support to those who may struggle.”

There needs to be a shift in mindset of employees: In an environment where people feel they must be heroic and come in even if not feeling well, it may be difficult to turn that on its head to promote a new social responsibility.

For companies listed on the Exchange, open and honest communication is a legal requirement, but now all firms will need to adopt this mentality. “LSEG has always tried to be honest and open in its communication, but this situation has emphasised that this is absolutely vital now.”