Watch the webinar
Replacing the Daily Coronavirus Webinars, our new bi-weekly broadcast - CBI @10am - will help support you through the next phase of the pandemic, giving you expert insight and intelligence to continue adapting, and providing the guidance you need to restart and boost your business, and build resilience for the new normal.
In today's webinar, the second of our new series CBI @10am, we discussed how businesses can return to the workplace. To speak about this, we were joined by Matthew Fell, Chief UK Policy Director of the CBI, Emma Holden, Global Head of Human Resources at Schroders, Rachel Jones, Director of Talent, Learning, Engagement and Organisational Design at Sodexo, and Stuart Wiggans, Senior Director for Operational Compliance at Asda.
These were the key points raised in the conversation:
- Encouraging employees to return to the office
- Planning for local lockdowns
- The new way of working
- Preventing a culture war.
Encouraging employees to return to the office
Tone setting by businesses and business leaders can play a huge part in encouraging employees to return to the office. "It's an organic process because we recognise that the workforce is very fragmented currently. We have people with very different levels of anxiety around commuting and coming into the office," Emma Holden, Global Head of Human Resources at Schroders commented.
"We're really trying to help people think through how they can manage that safely to give them a sense of security by flexing their start times or maybe coming in on a Monday or a Friday when transport tends to be quieter."
Encouraging open dialogue within teams to find a rhythm that works best for each individual employee has also been successful. "We've created network groups so that people who have been working from home can speak to people that are due to return back to an office environment," Rachel Jones, Director of Talent, Learning, Engagement and Organisational Design at Sodexo said. "Peer to peer is far more successful than somebody saying it will be fine.”
Planning for local lockdowns
As with Glasgow this week, it's increasingly likely we're going to see local lockdowns continue to pop up for the foreseeable future. Matthew Fell, Chief UK Policy Director of the CBI commented that "whilst we hope there won't be more local lockdowns, let's get good at them. Let's have a good level of visibility on the data.” The ideal, he said, would be a “no surprises regime".
Matthew had some suggestions for government communications about local lockdowns too: "I think clearly the government will need to act fast when the situation changes but the more pre-warning they can give helps companies plan," he said. Making announcements during the working day would be one way of ensuring companies have sufficient time to notify staff of changes.
Stuart Wiggans, Senior Director for Operational Compliance at Asda, told the webinar that it is useful for businesses to have a playbook which can then be tailored to the areas caught up in a local lockdown. "We did a lot of scenario testing with regard to pandemics and so even prior to the Leicester lockdown, we had a playbook in place so we knew what to do in the event of local lockdowns being instigated and what we'd do to support those stores, depots or offices in the affected areas," he said.
The regular routine data now being published by Public Health England on a weekly basis will help businesses have important conversations with their employees in advance as opposed to having to quickly react to something that's happened overnight.
The new way of working
For a lot of employees, it's likely that their typical working week will become a hybrid model of working from home and going into the office. "I think increasingly it's going to be about what are the types of activity where it's helpful to be back together with people," Matthew commented.
"If I think about my own role, if I'm doing a day where it's principally about working through reports and writing emails, I can do that from pretty much anywhere in the country. But if we've got a really thorny issue to work through and I'll benefit from sparking off the ideas of other people in the team and kicking ideas around then that's probably a day where I want to get together with people."
Stuart said that they were taking a similar approach at Asda towards a new working model. "You've got your little bubbles and teams and they'll have their strategy day, their brainstorm days, their days to actually get together and bond," he said.
"Once they go back to the Zoom calls at least they've had that day working on their business plans and their strategy. You can also go and do your networking and your corridor chats, the bits that you probably miss when you're on a computer."
Preventing a culture war
Parts of the media have criticised businesses for not returning to the office while workers in other sectors have gone into work throughout this period. But some employees are anxious about returning to the workplace. There is a risk of disagreement between companies feeling external pressure to send workers back to office and their employees not wanting to.
"This is about building out what are the reasons why it's good to be around people and making sure people feel confident and safe to do so," Matthew said. "We should hold on to the good bits and the benefits of flexible working that we've all enjoyed but also remember that there are plenty of things that work better in person."
Rachel also flagged that employees are signed up to a contract requiring them to go into their workplace if there are no medical or mental health reasons preventing them from doing so. Although she also stressed that employers have a duty of care to their employees and a responsibility to make the work environment safe.