As a leader, are you managing people going back into the office? Is there even an office to come back to or are you opting for working remotely instead? The way of working is changing considerably but how do you ensure your team are happy and productive?

I am speaking to a lot of leaders and managers currently about their various ways of getting the team back into the office, if at all.

Are some sectors more flexible than others?

I’ve found that this is very much dependent on sector and which are deemed ‘office necessary’ and which aren’t. For example, a number of architect practices are itching to have some office presence. This is due to the nature of their work and the necessity to be physically present as a team. Directors have said that even though remote working is do-able, there have been significant delays in the sign off process. Compare this to being together in an office where ideas can be discussed and actioned quickly and of course, physical site visits.

The same is applying to others in the creative industries. I don’t think we’ve cracked how technology can actually replace sharing ideas and discussions in a real room. Virtual whiteboards and collaboration tools are a great start but there’s an energy missing when you’re not all together in the same place.

Learning well and leading well

There are also concerns over staff welfare – specifically those junior staff who are perhaps in shared houses so are working in their bedrooms. The need to get these employees back to some semblance of an office environment is really important.

Can you remember back to when you were in your first job and imagine how you’d learn everything online? There’s a definite benefit to learning on the job and being surrounded by people. But the question has been asked as to how employees can engage with leadership in order to learn. Is the answer actually that leaders need to ask how they can make themselves more available to employees?

Will you give up the office for good?

On the flip side, I know of a music label and law firm who feel that the office is potentially an expensive and unnecessary commodity. Instead of paying the high rent prices for a central London space, they are instead looking to have a smaller hub space. This will be used for staff for meetings and would be booked and managed in line with the government guidelines.

I have a global client who has offered for their staff to work at home until August 2021 and has increased their childcare leave as well. How about Twitter too – they’re not asking their staff to return to the office at all. Anyone fancy working from Thailand or some other such beachside location?!

The benefits to your local community

The government has been pushing lately, suggesting we should get back to the office to avoid city centres becoming ghost towns. Sorry, I just don’t buy it. The benefits of working flexibly and remotely far outweigh the need to buy a Pret sandwich! Well, these are the benefits for individuals – landlords and businesses which revolve around workers are taking a hit. Aside from the benefits to families of having flexible working hours and being at home there are wider benefits. Local shops are faring much better as people are spending their money closer to home.

I won’t go back to spending £500 per month on a four-hour a day commute and that’s before the expensive sandwich thank you very much. That said, working for myself has been a life saver since giving all that up so I can only preach from my soapbox anyway. After I’ve had a homemade sandwich in the garden for lunch…

Wellbeing and balance

Staff wellbeing is also a huge issue alongside the practicalities. As I touched on before, there are people who have fully embraced working from home and are thriving in this environment. Then there are others, especially extraverts, that are struggling with the lack of physical interaction and camaraderie.

Throw in the issues of working environment (shared houses, parents’ houses, dining room tables) on top of this. Then there’s the blurred boundaries of work and home that this creates. For some it’s no wonder that time in the office is incredibly appealing.

Paper versus digital

Some businesses are still heavily paper-based and this has been a difficult transition period for them. Although many businesses have ramped up their use of technology, some have struggled with traditional sign-off processes. It’s been a good opportunity for many to switch to digital process flows and approvals although this has been a rapid transition. But for those who still rely on printing, internal post and signing documents physically; many have suffered adversely.

Hybrid and blended working approaches

How are you faring here? Are you mixing a bit of both remote working and office working or fully staying at home? A number of businesses are somewhere in the middle and offering a rotating staff policy in the office. This means that each person gets the opportunity to mix up their remote and office working. And this seems to be working.

Creating working bubbles of six staff that can be in the office at one time can satisfy that need for alliance and interactivity. Many people are missing this interaction, the water-cooler moments and sitting down with someone face to face to discuss issues.

Even for those of us who run their own businesses from home are missing the co-working spaces that often break up the week and give us an all-important change of scenery.

I’d love to hear what you are doing for your team and what your thoughts are about going back into the office.