The Great Return to Office Life.
We’re back baby!
Well a lot of us are back working in the office that is, after nearly 2 years of home working due to the pandemic restrictions.
This article is not about healthy office working with Coronavirus in mind, because we are all fully aware of how to safeguard our health as well as those we work with when it comes to the virus.
Add into the mix that the majority of businesses have their Office Pandemic Plan with distancing, sanitising, temperature checking, deep cleaning, etc. I don’t need to labour the point.
Instead, let’s look at how we can return to office working in a healthy and holistic way. This is about managing stress and anxiety levels, minimising absenteeism and presenteeism and ensuring your teams are working healthily, happily and coherently.
Now I know a lot of people are still choosing to work from home for at least part of their working week and perhaps you have decide to now work 100% from your home office.
If so — don’t stop reading! The below suggestions, hints and tips may well apply to you as well. If not then come back next week as I’ll be delving into Healthy Home Working.
What do I mean about Healthy & Holistic office Working?
Essentially what we are aiming for here is a healthy equilibrium at work where we are all working at our peak performance, in flow, in a stress free environment with very few distractions.
Sounds like work heaven, however, is it achievable?
I believe so, perhaps not 100% of the time, but I think the more we strive for an ideal healthy working environment then the closer we will get to it.
Why should we be bothered?
Mainly to get the best out of your employees and yourself. Presenteeism is on the rise as is absenteeism, costing the UK economy £15.1 billion and £8.4 billion per year respectively.
That’s £23.5 billion per year.
That could fund 26,000 nurses for 23 years.
Or 22,000 teachers for 23 years.
Or for talking therapy for 58 million people.
Often businesses act on absenteeism and presenteeism issues far too late, by which time several of their team are already feeling below low, underperforming, close to burnout or have already left.
This is not ideal for company morale and not a good advertisement for your company as a great place to work, therefore, making top talent close to impossible to attract, recruit and retain.
If you are fearing that this is affecting your team then it would be wise to address it by asking people what is not working for them at work.
Invariably there will be a multitude of reasons so be prepared to get specific — a ‘one size fits all survey’ won’t cut it here. Use open ended questions without judgement to engage with your employees so that they can tell you what is really going on.
Or get an outsider in to help you guide this process, to have these chats in an anonymous manner. I often work with organisations who want an expert’s help and advice on this.
The Return To Work
If you want to have your team return to the office then they may need some convincing after being away for so long.
Ask what is holding them back and fully listen to them — by this I mean really listen — not just ‘hear’ but take on board what they say.
Their concerns may range from:
“I prefer working from home as I have a better life-work balance now”
“I am fearful of the risks on public transport”
“The travel costs are too high along with inflation, energy price increases etc”
You don’t need to have an immediate answer to everything, instead, use your staff responses to shape your ways of working, whether that’s introducing a hybrid working model, travel loans or travel allowances, staggered working times to beat rush hour, life admin days, etc.
It goes without saying to make this as attractive as possible, so think about the following:
- Natural light in all areas. I once worked in what can best be described as a windowless, airless, old storeroom — my mental health was driven off a cliff as I craved sunlight and any view other than a wall.
- The layout of the office (Covid aside) how are people sat and if they have their own desk? Ownership of their space instils a sense of responsibility rather than fighting for a hot desk, How are meeting rooms and communal spaces laid out for conducive conversations? Are you using muted colours or emotionally driving ones?
- Will you allow plants? Pets?! Music?
Desk Etiquette & Set Up
Simple tweaks to people’s postures, helping them make sure that they are sitting and standing well will work wonders. Get a professional in to run DSE checks with everyone so they avoid ‘TechNeck’ and encourage regular ‘get up & move’ breaks.
This may sound a bit too full on, but I’ve seen it work — have a tidy desk as it really does lead to a tidy, calmer mind and a more organised approach. When I was working and hot desking I would spend ages tidying up other people’s crap just so I could work effectively.
Remind your team about cleanliness and provide suitable organisation — as well as the right equipment. Your IT team don’t need to spend every other hour finding a keyboard.
If you have a huge workforce then these next tips may be hard to apply and you might want to consider trialling different things with different teams, however, I strongly encourage you to try — the benefits will be outstanding.
- Find out when each employee’s ideal working times are. This will likely be in line with their circadian rhythms as well as their life demands. You want to know when they will be working at their best to encourage that wonderful flow of work. For example — my ideal start time is early in the morning — in summer this can often be around 7am whereas I prefer to be finishing up at 4.30pm or 5. Just in time for a gin!
- Encourage regular breaks: schedule them in and stick to them, set a timer or assign a ‘break buddy’ so you ensure everyone takes a rest and is not stuck in front of their screen all of the time.
- Move more — stand up and stretch, do desk yoga, set a movement challenge and raise money for the company’s charity. This is easily linked to your regular break routine and even better if employees can get outside whilst doing so.
- Make sure when work ends it is a hard stop; no sending emails at stupid o’clock at night, no weekend instant messenger. If it helps — turn off your company work emails for everyone at the same time each day.
Needless to say, this all has to come from the top and your team needs to be led by example. If you have just one person in management going against the ‘wellbeing grain’ then you need to deal with it and fast otherwise resentment will set in.
Communicate, Collaborate, Compromise & Respect
Explain why the hell you are doing all this — we all like to know what’s going on and if you want your people to be receptive then lay it out for them.
Please remember that what works for one person may not work for everyone so consider adapting and being flexible and making sure that different teams are finding the right ways of working for their needs and work demands.
- If hybrid working becomes super popular then make it work for your business and your people by considering staggered working times, a 4 day working week, or a 9 day fortnight.
- Can you offer more days off: recovery days, mental health days? These must be given without penalty and without judgement.
- How about monthly vitality days help keep the message going: get physical, improve nutrition, focus on sleep, grow resilience, diminish stress — by finding out what the main concerns and issues are we can create a Year of Wellbeing with monthly topics, activities, specialist support etc.
- Ask each and every employee what support they need. We often only hear a tiny part of what people are going through — delve deeper to see what the company can do. I once worked at an organisation where they fully supported someone through a shock cancer diagnosis and full treatment. If you are not sure how to do it — get an Occupational Health specialist in or someone like myself in to fully understand what the help and support your people need.
- Keep wellbeing at the very top of your agenda by reminding your team about the help you have available: EAP, health insurance, career counselling, coaching, gym discounts — if they don’t know about it they won’t use it and will invariably think poorly of their employer.
Talk to me to find out more about what I can offer to make sure each and every one of your employees is happy, healthy and well at work: email@example.com