Challenging the conventional workplace approachPublished 14.04.21
The pandemic has challenged the conventional workplace approach with remote working and new means of collaboration. As the vaccination roll-out gathers pace, there is an increased optimism as to the possibility of returning to the office. At the time of writing, 31% of the UK population have administered one dose which is the 3rd highest amount globally after Israel and UAE. This is only increasing as the days roll on; hence the reason serious discussions are taking place about returning to the office.
However, this does not necessarily mean a return to the way of working before 23rd March 2020. A recent study undertaken showed that 68% of surveyed workers do not feel completely safe in their buildings. Furthermore, UK workers are equally concerned with coronavirus transmission through the air as they are via surfaces. This underpins the fact that ensuring the safety of employees is crucial to a successful workplace return.
Reviewing how your office benefits your organisation
Whilst organisations were thrown into remote working at the start of this pandemic, after doing it for a year, it has provided a fantastic opportunity to challenge why our offices are beneficial to our organisations. Now that most of us have had real-life experience of staff working at home, the pros and cons of agile working are tangible rather than theoretical. We can see if staff are more productive. We can see if staff are less collaborative. We can see if staff are more innovative.
The first step is to identify what the office is used for. Is the space your staff work in crucial to the outcome of this work? Although this is more likely to apply to blue-collar staff, it is still relevant to office workers and this proved by the fact that many organisations have a small contingent of staff based in the office to offer crucial support to clients and other staff members, that can’t be done remotely.
How has the work your staff carry out changed since 23rd March 2020? For example, although virtual meetings were gaining popularity before social distancing was introduced, they have soared in the last 12 months. If this is the case in your organisation, should employees be using your office space if they have a full day of video conferencing?
Rethinking your office capacity
Reduced office capacity is crucial to increase the feeling of safety for staff when they return to the office. This enables adequate social distancing and coupled with following government guidelines, staff should feel safe and protected in the office.
However, reducing capacity is not only essential to provide adequate safety within the office, the right design-led approach will also help meet the future organisational needs of a post-Covid workforce. As the pandemic has progressed, we have recognised a shift in the perceived usage of the modern workplace.
As Lloyd Coldrick, Managing Director at Cobus explains, “Remote working has shown employees and employers that not all work types must be carried out in the office. The role of management as we return to our offices is to utilise the increased productivity proved from doing focus-type work at home, as well as capitalising on increased collaboration and idea generation within the office.”
The importance of social capital
The Oxford Languages definition of social capital is “the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society, enabling that society to function effectively”. This refers to any interaction between people that generates positivity and understanding which therefore generates trust. Although this can still occur via virtual mediums, it is much more difficult to spot non-verbal cues in someone such as fidgeting or inhaling quickly to show that they are about to speak. In organisational culture, high level trust is vital and has even been proved to decrease stress and increase productivity.
Social capital plays a very important role in setting the culture within an organisation and remote working has been a disruptor to this. There will be staff members that have been with an organisation for several years and have social networks that help them maintain the culture whilst remote working. However, for new recruits starting at an organisation where remote working is the norm, new ways to help them benefit from social capital will need to be devised to ensure the organisational culture does not become fragmented. In the time between now and the return to pre-pandemic norms, we can reassess our physical and digital infrastructure to ensure we are best equipped to maintain the generation of social capital.