How to transition back to the office environment post COVID-19

How to transition back to the office environment post COVID-19

When employees across the country were asked to leave the office and work remotely in March 2020, not many of us imagined we’d still be working from home over a year later. The end of lockdown is in sight, and businesses are busy planning their future return to the workplace. But what will this return look like?

Debate around returning to the office has been rife. Some studies suggest workers are happier and more productive when working from home, others suggest around 30% of colleagues are lonely as they suffer from a lack of creativity and collaboration.

Most businesses recognise the benefits of hybrid working. Better flexibility, greater business resilience, more efficient customer service options and higher profitability. It’s no wonder that around half of all businesses are looking to invest in technology that enables remote working on a more permanent basis.

One thing is certain; office life is never going to be the same again. The idea of thousands of employees commuting to sit at their desks between 9 – 5 seems outdated and unnecessary now. Employers are, however, left facing a dilemma. They need to figure out how to adapt to this cultural shift. 

The transitional phase will end, and employers will need to make a choice

Too many business leaders have adopted a sticking plaster approach to remote working so far; a quick fix to tide them over until they are able to return to their workplace full-time.

This approach now needs to be reviewed. Make-shift solutions to help employees work remotely on a temporary basis are unlikely to be effective long-term. Some businesses may have made just enough changes to survive COVID-19, but they now face a wider cultural transformation.

Setting up standard phone forwarding, for example, was a great stop-gap solution for some businesses when the pandemic hit. It enabled them to quickly implement remote working without missing calls. However, traditional phone forwarding simply isn’t a permanent, or particularly effective solution for crisis planning or managing employee demand for home working.

These businesses should look to transition to cloud telephony instead, allowing employees to use one intelligent desktop interface to manage all communication channels. Sending and receiving calls through the internet is a much more reliable, agile way of working. It limits potential downtime and boosts business resilience as the chance of something going wrong with cloud technology is minimal. If something does go wrong, it’s much easier to rectify as engineers are able to work remotely to diagnose and fix the issue.

Having elements of your business working in the cloud, and others (like traditional PBX systems) still stuck in the nineties will limit your productivity and, ultimately, profitability. A fully cloud-based solution will ensure your business has the tools and technology it needs to survive any stormy waters that may lie ahead. Ensuring business resilience, agile working abilities and high efficiency is key to keeping your business moving forwards.

Employees will favour hybrid working…

72% of employees, in fact. A huge percentage of people are backing the hybrid working model. Businesses must now step up and deliver.

Some employees will work more productively at home; others will thrive in a buzzing office environment. Create a culture where productivity and efficiency are the top priority. Does it matter if someone’s sitting in their living room if their quality of work has improved? Similarly, what’s the point in asking an employee to commute every day if their productivity suffers as a result?

Achieving work-life balance doesn’t need to come at the expense of your business. In fact, your employees are more likely to do their best work if they feel valued and able to balance all aspects of their lives most effectively.

We anticipate hybrid working will become the norm. It offers an ideal opportunity to support remote workers, whilst nurturing collaboration and company culture. People simply can’t connect and socialise day-to-day over conference calls. The physical workspace is needed to consolidate company culture, offering employees a unique and irreplaceable opportunity to share ideas and feel part of a unified team.

Creating an agile working culture

The perceived problem of hybrid working is how to effectively manage employee schedules. How do managers know when and where their people are working? Are employees really working productively from home, or are they secret mouse-wigglers just pretending to work while their TV is on in the background?

The last year has taught businesses to monitor performance based on the quality of output, not hours put in. Trusting employees to do their best work with no benchmarking in place is, of course, a risky strategy. That’s why we recommend using software such as a virtual PBX system that offers real-time reporting and call quality monitoring. You don’t have to micro-manage your team, but it’s still advisable to ensure customer service standards remain consistent.

An agile working culture must filter throughout the business. Achieve buy-in from your senior leadership team, and the rest will follow. Focus on analysing results, productivity and service levels rather than where and when your employees are working. You may need to work in shifts or implement rotas to cover core working hours but putting flexibility first will help your business to utilise hybrid working most effectively.

Cyber security considerations for hybrid workers

Innovative security features will protect a business across its network, including in the cloud and mobile users. Having said that, there are additional considerations to consider when it comes to hybrid working.

When an employee is based in one place, whether that’s in an office or at home, their risks are contained. Employees are taught the importance of cyber security and protecting customer data, but there are now additional considerations. We often view cyber criminals as strategic hackers – but opportunistic cyber crime happens too. An unlocked device left open on a table, or a lost laptop, can be devastating for businesses. Stressing the impact of social engineering and ensuring employees understand their responsibilities can help to reinforce key messages around cyber security.

As businesses virtualise, employees may be required to undertake additional security routines such as two-factor authentication. Most employees will adapt well to using these kind of security measures at work, as we’re all so used to seeing similar measures in our personal lives too.

Review and update your security measures, renew cyber security training and refresh your Privacy Policy. It’s important security standards don’t slip as the world transitions into hybrid working.

Consider working with cloud-based specialists such as Babble to provide expert advice and peace of mind when it comes to protecting your business. Our cyber team can work remotely to secure devices and minimise the impact of a lost or hacked device. The problem may be physical security, but you can overcome these issues using advanced remote solutions with the help of our experts.

Physical workspaces will change

Office spaces have already transitioned from claustrophobic cubicles to roomy, open-plan office spaces. Employers invest heavily in their office space, often viewing it as an extension of their brand. From state-of-the-art ergonomic chairs, stand-up desks, pool tables or on-site gyms, many businesses try to make sure their offices are an inspirational place to be.

With hybrid working looking to replace the standard 9 – 5, office spaces will need to adapt too. Rows of desks are likely to become redundant in the near future, as employees begin to see office spaces as a hub for collaboration or ideation. Why head to a physical workspace just to sit at a desk in silence?

Workspaces should reflect these changes. We expect to see a rise in breakout areas, wellbeing spaces and hotdesking as our way of working becomes more agile. Organisations that are yet to transition to the cloud will find physical changes more difficult to implement. Those who are already embracing cloud-based solutions will find it much easier to alter and improve workspaces to fit new needs. Why worry about wires, handsets and desktops when cloud technology can enable employees to work anywhere, any time?

IT teams must learn to adapt their roles. For many, learning to support and assist colleagues remotely could be a challenging transition. Providing support and training for all teams, plus nurturing an agile working culture, will ensure full employee advocacy for the new way of working. 

Those who don’t adapt will be left behind

There are still business leaders who are convinced things will just go back to normal. They’re wrong. We’re not sure exactly what the “new normal” will look like; we doubt it will involve hordes of workers commuting hours each day just to be visible at their desks. Businesses that want a 100% “in-situ” workforce will suffer the consequences. Employees may look elsewhere and recruiting may be difficult. Businesses that don’t move with the times may suffer with low employee retention, poor productivity and a higher rate of absenteeism. Competitors scoop up the best talent. Profitability is impacted. It’s easy to see how the stance “flexible working just doesn’t work for our business” can soon become a fatal flaw. 

The bottom line is this: agile working can be integrated into almost any business. It’s particularly effective within office settings, where it’s not always necessary for employees to attend a physical workplace. The future is a virtual-first way of working. 

Now’s the time for organisations to step up and be proactive in their approach. Hybrid working looks set to stay and embedding agility through cloud-based solutions as soon as possible will only help businesses to thrive.