Re-imagining a post pandemic office
The acceleration of change spurred on by the global pandemic has wearied the world. Employees who were hoping that 2021 would magically make all the COVID-19 craziness go away are grappling with persistent anxiety.
Human beings weren’t designed to live in constant stress. We resist the things we cannot control and try to do everything in our power to build stability. We need a form of predictability in order to feel safe.
Organisations are faced with the ongoing challenge of keeping staff who survived the COVID-19 cull engaged and productive. So, what can HR teams do to support their teams and contribute to psychological safety in their organisations?
1. Experiment with flexible office space
Costs of owning a property are placing a massive drain on organisations financial reserves. Some of the options that organisations are experimenting with include renting out their current premises. Others are in the process of selling current properties and selecting lease versus buy options.
2. Extending remote work flexibility for staff
With the extended lockdown regulations, some organisations are offering employees flexible work options, like working at the office three days a week and working remotely two days a week. Others are still enforcing a mandatory work from home mandate as a way to safeguard their workforce.
3. Empowering staff with resources for remote work
At the start of lockdown, many organisations were scrambling to provide office staff with laptop and data to enable them to work from home. While there might not be that much savings in the budget due to current infrastructure commitments, any future savings can be allocated to providing auxiliary office support to staff.
There needs to be a continuous assessment of required resources that will support long term productivity of staff. This might mean purchasing additional hardware and software for staff, as well as contributing to monthly wifi/data costs incurred with staying connected online.
4. Equip employees to thrive in the new virtual world of work
Employees who needed to make a sudden shift to working from home, especially those with children, have complained that they are now working more hours than when they were at an office every day.
The lines of personal and professional responsibility have blurred and so HR teams should be providing staff with tools on how to manage the every day stress of working from home.
There is a marked urgency for the need to upskill, cross skill and re-skills employees, so that they’re not left behind. All planning for the revised office needs to include soft skills (read: essential skills) training for staff.
5. Engage employees in designing a blueprint for the evolving office
The future is unpredictable. Change is generally resisted and the majority of people are ill-equipped to adapt to the long term stress of instability.
Finding a way to involve employees in the design of the revised office environment might solicit solutions that were not originally considered. It may also be valuable to provide each team with the autonomy to decide on their own office patterns, once an overall framework has been agreed upon.
6. Embrace the hybrid model of the future office
There might not be a permanent return to the 9-5 office bound work in a post-covid world but there will be more of a hybrid mixture of remote and office work.
Virtual interactions, while valuable, still lack the personal touch. There will be a slow return to the office space in order to facilitate these essential human interactions.
It will be a place to escape the home office, to engage in team meetings, attend in-person presentations and customer meetings. Forward thinking organisations might even consider the integration of childcare facilities into their emptier spaces, to support employees with family responsibilities.
7. Evolution of smarter offices
There was already a move towards the design of greener office spaces as organisations intentionally became active participants in the circular economy.
The need for safe and clean offices will remain a priority as people return to shared workspaces. Many organisations have already made the switch to contactless access points but there will be ongoing modifications needed as new pressures on old spaces are experienced.
Organisations need to work with their staff to effectively navigate what the future of the office will look like. As we’ve seen with the global shutdown, the real power of any organisation is mobilised in its people. Employees have proven that they don’t need to be monitored in physical spaces in order to be productive.
Prioritising the health and wellbeing of their employees is therefore paramount to the progress of an organisation. The pandemic has offered an opportunity for employers to partner with their employees in designing what the new office looks like.
Whether the new moulds of workspaces will hold post-pandemic, will remain to be seen.
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