Returning to work: why culture should be a top priority

As three quarters of London's firms welcome staff back to their offices, many businesses across the UK are planning their return to the workplace.

Returning to work: why culture should be a top priority

As three quarters of London’s firms welcome staff back to their offices, many businesses across the UK are planning their return to the workplace. Exploring the reality of social distancing and investing in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has become part and parcel of this ‘new normal’. It’s a complex process with lots of moving parts. For some, transitioning back to the office environment is a troublesome thought — whilst others are excited to get back in and enjoy the company of colleagues. Supporting all staff and prioritising company culture through this transition is critical. 

Consulting with staff is an essential part of getting the workplace up and running again. Listening to their thoughts and concerns will ensure that they feel happy and confident about returning. Failure to understand and address uncertainties could lead to resentment and a workforce which isn’t engaged or productive. 

To find out more and unpick the key anxieties about returning to the workplace, Breathe teamed up with Posture People and HR Central, surveying 482 business leaders and employees. 

The results: Anxiety around returning to work 

The research revealed that more than half of people (55.2%) are concerned about returning to work. 

And it’s not just about being back in the office. 88% of employees surveyed are worried about using public transport. The anxiety surrounding travel to and from the workplace is alarming, particularly for small businesses in cities — one third of all UK SME’s are based in London, where people heavily rely on public transport. Understanding what mode of transport employees use and their confidence in doing so is an important part of the consultation process. For long distance commuters, spending hours on a train each day might seem out of reach amid ongoing uncertainty.

To address these fears, employers might be able to offer reduced core office hours. For instance, only requiring team members to be in the office from 10am-4pm, with the ability to make time up elsewhere. This will prevent staff travelling during peak times and curb anxieties about using public transport. 

What will a return to work look like? 

A return to the workplace is unlikely to be an overnight transformation with almost three quarters (70.6%) of businesses reporting that they are planning to bring their workforce back in a phased, partial manner. Half (50.6%) of business leaders surveyed plan to limit the amount of employees in the office at one time to adhere to social distancing regulations, too. 

For workers concerned with entering a busy workplace again, this will ease the transition back. However, a gradual return to the office extends the time spent working at home and the impact of this should be considered. 

Remote working, often in spaces which are not optimal, has negatively impacted the mental health of workers. Working without office facilities and the immediate support of the team over the last few months has taken its toll. Prioritising company culture whilst employees work remotely is essential because the Culture Economy report 2020 found that poor company culture costs the UK SME market £15.7 billion every year — many businesses recognise its importance and have attempted to make their culture digital by creating virtual yoga sessions and quizzes. However, it’s not quite the same as being in the office and after months apart, many are eager to get back in, which is something to consider when planning a staggered return.  

Organisation and culture are key 

Moving forward, it’s clear that shift management will become key priorities for all, including 9-5 businesses. Whether an organisation is planning a gradual return or accommodating core hours, there are a lot of schedules to juggle alongside social distancing requirements. Using a detailed rota system can help adhere to guidelines, by establishing shift patterns and dedicating time to extra cleaning. 

Whatever decisions a business makes over the next few months, they must ensure that their people are at the core of these choices. The needs and wishes of employees should be taken into account when planning a return. This creates a trusting and inclusive company culture which is important for ensuring loyalty and reducing employee churn.

Rachel King
Rachel King

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