November 26, 2020

Back in business! How firms across the country are making working from the office SAFER

Businesses across the country are reopening their offices to workers craving a structured but flexible environment and social interaction. Here’s how they’ve done it:

Office spaces have been transformed so employees can have a safer way of working, with one-way layouts, distancing and tracking systems to stop the spread of the virus.

Though this is the future of work, the familiarity of ‘office life’ is all part of the draw.

For some, it’s not just the routines we’ve missed, such as lunch in the city centre or the gym before meetings, but the people: like chatting to a colleague over the desk or being able to ask a question in person.

Whether you pop in a few times a week or decide to go back full-time, striking the right balance between home and office could be the key to a more productive work life.

FLEXIBLE OFFICE LIFE CREATES BALANCE FOR WORKING FAMILIES

For many families across the country, working from home presented the unique challenge of balancing a full-time job with childcare or homeschooling.

That’s why companies such as SaveMoneyCutCarbon.com have taken the time to listen to employees’ personal situations as they ease more than 50 staff back into the working environment with flexible working hours and staff rotations.

Martyn Abbott, head of online for SaveMoneyCutCarbon.com, is happy to esacpe the distractions of home and be able to concentrate on work when he comes into the office

‘During lockdown, I was juggling work with caring for our three-year-old, while my wife works part-time for the NHS,’ says head of online Martyn Abbott. 

‘When we reopened, our office hours were so flexible that I could benefit from a distraction-free space whenever it suited our family.’

When SaveMoneyCutCarbon. com – a fast-growing business helping organisations reduce their energy, water and carbon consumption – wanted to reopen its Suffolk office, they started with a risk assessment of the 10,000 square foot building.

A number of changes were made, including installing high-quality, no-touch foaming hand-sanitiser dispensers across the building, and replacing light switches with sensor-activated technology. 

Flexible approach: Mark Sait, CEO of SaveMoneyCutCarbon.com says he missed the social side of the office, but is happy to trust his team to work from home if that works better for them

Flexible approach: Mark Sait, CEO of SaveMoneyCutCarbon.com says he missed the social side of the office, but is happy to trust his team to work from home if that works better for them

A new digital track-and-trace system now checks the temperatures of staff and visitors. As for layout, a spacious, well-ventilated working hub called the Sky Garden has been set up for individual working or safely distanced collaboration.

‘I was surprised how much I missed the social side of an office,’ says Martyn. ‘Especially team meetings and face-to-face chats. Even though I’ve gradually increased my office hours, I trust my team to work from home if that’s better for them.’

CEO Mark Sait adds: ‘It’s not one size fits all: some people have been scared about coming back, while others are relaxed.

‘For us, it’s been a combination of listening, adapting our practices and spending the money on technology to support how they want to work. Our flexible approach is here to stay.’

‘I missed the social side of an office, especially team meetings and face-to- face chats, but I trust my team to work from home if that’s better for them’

CREATIVE TEAMS NEED FACE-TO-FACE COLLABORATION TIME

FOR creative teams that thrive on big ideas, the transition to remote- communication tools such as Slack and Zoom has sometimes been a challenge.

But now that collaborative workforces such as the Evergreen Agency are back in the same room, the ideas can really start to flow, says senior SEO strategist Naomi Francis-Parker.

‘Everyone seems happier since being back in the office – even for just a few days a week,’ she says. ‘I’ve seen a huge improvement in motivation and energy.

‘For me, working from home meant fewer distractions, but having that collaboration again with my colleagues across desks boosts our creative process.’

Naomi Francis-Parker, senior SEO strategist at the Evergreen Agency, says she had nerves at first about heading back to the office but is happier and more motivated now she's back

Naomi Francis-Parker, senior SEO strategist at the Evergreen Agency, says she had nerves at first about heading back to the office but is happier and more motivated now she’s back

Naomi now commutes to the SEO agency at a business park in Stratton Audley, Oxfordshire, three times a week, co-ordinating days with her team.

A rota system limits office users to five at a time, with desks newly arranged for two-metre distancing and sanitising wipes at every station. Staff are also provided with face coverings to use at their discretion.

Even though communal tea rounds are a thing of the past, Naomi says the familiar routines of workplace life have helped everyone settle back in.

She says: ‘At the office, I’m grateful for clear markers to take a break, such as seeing people leave their desks to make lunch or walk into town for a Pret a Manger. I even missed my drive for extra head space.’

Although she had nerves at first, Naomi says Covid-secure systems improved her confidence about going back. ‘When your employer establishes set rules,

it feels OK to go into the office. For my mental wellbeing, it’s nice to be out of the house, and physically I get more done.’

■ This is UK Government information for readers in England only. Check with your local authority for guidance on workplaces reopening in your area.

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