Published: 1 May 2020

“Beyond Lockdown” - Key points to consider for a return to Office life

With the news that the UK has “passed the peak” still echoing in our ears, its surely a trigger to all of us to give greater thought to our Beyond Lockdown strategies. Of course, there’s a strong probability that you’re already all over this but equally for a some a reality that it needs further thought. How will office life look beyond Covid?. Will things return to normal?. Should things return to normal?. Come to think of it, can anyone remember what normal was?. I suspect there are many lessons we can learn from this current period of lockdown, here are a few of the talking points to consider.

1 - Does the traditional office have a life beyond lockdown?

With Covid-19 forcing many workers into their first experience of “home working”, could we see this being a strategy that employers choose to extend to their workforces going forward?. In recent weeks I’ve read many articles by various business leaders all expressing their thoughts that the traditional office as we know it could well be a thing of the past. Of course, no one is suggesting we abolish office working and opt for an entirely home-based UK workforce completely, that simply isn’t going to happen. We will, however, need to take a look at many aspects of our workspaces and adapt to a new way of working.

2 - Could lockdown trigger the closure of “Open plan”?

Whilst many of us have adopted a more open plan style of living in our homes in recent times, the concept of open-plan office spaces can be dated back to the early 1950s. As long ago as 2017, the BBC ran an investigation into the disadvantages of open plan workspaces (Click here to read), Maybe, just maybe its time to start to look at reversing this open-plan trend. A return to our work environments isn’t likely to see us throw aside all the social distancing rules that we have become accustomed to in recent months. Perhaps we need to be considering a shift towards more pod-like formats for our office space. I appreciate the ability to be able to deliver this new format will largely depend upon the density of your office teams. One thing is for sure we’re all going to have to get creative with the use of our office spaces as we work our way back towards office life.

3 - Was MC Hammer ahead of time 30 years ago when he said “U Can’t Touch this”

Perhaps one thing that the Coronavirus has taught us is a few lessons in daily hygiene (In particular,  how singing "Happy Birthday " twice is a good barometer for how long we should wash our hands for). As employees return to the office environment there’s going to be an understandably certain level of reluctance to mix in shared spaces such as communal kitchens, especially if your office is located in a shared service building. Communal areas such as kitchens and canteens are going to have to be re-thought to ensure hygiene standards are maintained at all your office touchpoints. One thing for sure, it's going to be a busy time for H & S executives. I’m afraid if you’re a fan of the hourly team “Coffee/Tea run”, you may have to consider a flask on your desk for a few months.

4 - Should we adopt a flexible approach to home working?

If we have learnt one thing from our lockdown experience it’s that working from home is possible and doesn’t mean we have to be any less productive. One of the possible solutions to the point above about re-jigging office space could be eased by introducing a more flexible approach to employees working from home. The option of working from home from time to time or on a scheduled rota basis could well bring welcome financial relief to many organisations too. At a time when cash is going to be vital to organisations, downsizing office space is very likely to result in being able to re-negotiate any landlord rental payments, which can only help to ease the situation going forward too.

5 - Utilising technology to ease Life beyond lockdown

One thing we have come to depend upon during lockdown is our technology. If we are, as a workforce to embrace a more “remote working” strategy then technology is going to continue to play a pivotal role. I appreciate for many organisations, setting their employees up with the right technology to be able to work from home will have come at a financial cost. Surely an argument to support the point above about working from home would be to continue to use that technology and see a return on that investment. As we have continued to learn more about the prevention of transmission of infection we could also see technology playing a more pivotal role in other aspects of office life too. Could we see the introduction of more technology in the office spaces to significantly reduced touchpoints?. Although not a new concept, is there a case for utilising technology for things like automation of office doors/lifts on a more widespread basis.

6 – “Return to work” engagement will be key

Undoubtedly a key factor in the transition back to the work environment will be how we all engage our teams. As ever, people will always be the most important part of any business, without the employees there wouldn’t be a business. We are all going to have to strategise a comprehensive “Welcome Back” plan and be cautious to be flexible to individual needs. Let’s face it, this has perhaps been one of, if not the most disruptive period of most peoples lives in recent history. Your teams may have suffered from the Virus directly or indirectly, they may even have lost loved ones to it. How we engage them and apply a certain amount of flexibility to individual employees will be key to any transition. For many, a return to office life may provide a welcome relief from having to play “home teacher”, for others the thought of it may still frighten them and concerns about health and welfare will be at the forefront of their concerns. Just as you have had to show a certain amount of compassion as your team adjust to home-working, those same allowances will have to be made as we all adjust back.

We may have passed the peak but there’s a long way still to go. Let’s hope we can all embrace the real “community spirit” we’ve demonstrated in the last few months and inject it into our “Beyond Lockdown strategies” to get our economies back up and running again soon. If you have any strategies that your planning that you feel could work well for others, please feel free to share with me here, Let's continue to help each other through these tough times.