I’ve had loads of questions around returning to the office and I know many business owners are struggling to figure out the best way to approach it, so thought I’d share our experiences.

There’s a lot of different views around IF a return to the office should happen. In the early days of giddiness around this new world and new way of working, I think many people thought that it might become a permanent structure for all. However, having worked from home, alone, for the first two years of starting Para-Sols, I knew first hand how quickly the thrill wore off and how difficult it becomes to maintain routine (and/or sanity).  

This recent survey from Citywire reflects this, showing the majority of firms have now decided to keep their offices, albeit with a bit more flexibility. Clearly, we all now know that working from home can work. Not only that, but we’ve also all been forced to put in place the infrastructure for that to happen (the logistics of which might have previously seemed insurmountable). And so it’s there, as an option, and I think any firms that go back to insisting their team are in the office, Monday – Friday, 9 – 5, with no flexibility at all, will find themselves at a disadvantage when recruiting in future. 

So, if we assume there may be some sort of returning to the office, how do we best do that? Well, practically, this article from Quilter talks about the logistics and legalities around this. But that is only a part of the puzzle; yes we need to do what is lawfully required, but we also need to do what’s right for our team, and that will vary from firm to firm.

Firstly, I would say, our return has been made smoother for a number of reasons: 

  • Very few in the Verve team use public transport in their commute. 
  • There’s also very few with children, meaning there aren’t too many childcare issues.
  • We moved into new, huge, offices in January. Any sort of social distancing in our previous chicken coop would’ve been impossible.
  • There’s 40 of us, which is manageable. The logistics of hundreds of employees is completely different. 

Your team structure and office set up will largely dictate your approach. Those aside, we realised that a huge part of the return challenge is the anxiety people are feeling right now. We’ve had months of our worlds being tipped upside down, being constantly fed conflicting information, and let’s not forget right at the start, when the media and communications we received instilled absolute terror in people. It was brutal seeing how extreme the fear was stirred up in some, and that level of fear doesn’t suddenly go away. So the concerns and anxieties are completely understandable. 

Our approach, therefore, has been: 

  1. All the necessary precautions around desk spacing, designated safe/private working zones, regular cleaning throughout the day, sanitiser / anti-bac etc. This stuff provides an important visual reminder, that can be regularly seen, acting as a reminder to everyone that we’re looking out for them, and they should be looking out for each other.
  2. Phasing the initial return, with half of the team back on Monday and half on Tuesday – to give that sense of coming together and have a big kick-off / catch up meeting, without it being overwhelming by having everyone back at once. 
  3. Encouraging flexible working/working from home for a number of days a week, and providing the equipment for this to happen.
  4. Arranging antibody tests for everyone who wants one (as inspired by Ray Adams at Niche. With this, we acknowledge the limitations around it and that there are no certainty antibodies result in immunity. The purpose of it comes back to the anxiety created around a lack of information and any tiny bits of extra knowledge or information we can give people can only help, albeit being a tiny part of the overall picture.
  5. Revamping our Vitality programme. This is our health and wellbeing programme, with physical (socially distanced) yoga and HIIT classes now taking place, and encouragement of the use of a counselling service we have for those who are struggling with the world as it is.
  6. All the fun stuff! Which we’re kinda known for – but making the first days back fun ones, with a New Chapter theme, pizza vans and breakfast mimosas meant that even those who had most been worried about the return quickly relaxed back into things. Sometimes that first step is the hardest one…

There’ll no doubt be many more challenges ahead for us all, but I thought it would be useful to share what we’ve done so far and why, right now at The Verve Group, we’re all very much looking forward to the future with a whole load of excitement.

Cathi Harrison – Founder and Director, Para-Sols & CEO, The Verve Group.

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