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The safe return: HR Directors and facilities managers must collaborate now

HR must understand employees’ expectations and needs regarding a return to the workplace, and must then be part of the arrangements to ensure employees’ concerns are practically addressed.

UK organisations are preparing for an office return and most HR Directors will be carefully managing a safe transition. However it’s all too easy to forget the practicalities of returning to the office and the implications for HR professionals. Where will everyone be sitting if social distancing is being observed and how do you prevent overcrowded offices and anxious staff? It’s in the HR Director’s interests to work closely with the facilities/operations manager right now to ensure the logistics of getting people safely back into the office have been carefully considered.

The practical implications of a safe return

The past 16 months has impacted everyone in different ways and with COVID cases on the increase, many employees are understandably cautious of a return to the office with some being particularly fearful of mixing with colleagues once again. This has a big impact on HR professionals who have to carefully navigate a path between Government guidelines and the health and wellbeing of their people.

HR must understand employees’ expectations and needs regarding a return to the workplace, and must then be part of the arrangements to ensure employees’ concerns are practically addressed. Some organisations may decide to continue with a hybrid/flexible model of working and if so, who will decide when staff attend the office and how will it be coordinated?

It’s all too easy to overlook the practicalities of creating a COVID-safe workplace. Most employees will expect there to be social distancing measures on their return as well as hand sanitiser stations and masks when moving around the office. But what about the configuration of the office and ensuring that COVID safe facilities and car parking spaces are available for all staff, including the most vulnerable? With office capacity a consideration, staff won’t be able to turn-up on a whim and hope that a desk is available for them.

HR and facilities managers – time to create a partnership

HR and facilities managers need to work together right now to make the workplace as COVID safe as possible.  Desks and meeting rooms may well need re-configuring to allow for social distancing (with fewer desks likely). And plans must be put in place to ensure too many people aren’t in the office at any one time. It’s important to carefully consider and coordinate the movement of people in and out of the office so people feel safe and once in the office, have somewhere to sit with the right facilities to hand. After all, if anxious employees turn-up to the office on their first day back and the office is overcrowded with nowhere for them to sit, how likely is it that they will return? HR will then have to manage the inevitable fallout.

Turning to tech 

It’s likely that HR and facilities managers will have to turn to the right tech to support the management of offices and people in a hybrid world. A solution once considered a ‘nice to have’ but is now key is desk management software. Organisations often rely on their email calendars to arrange bookings for desks and meeting rooms, however this is error-prone, time-consuming and doesn’t provide a holistic view of who is in the office at any one time. It’s therefore not fit-for-purpose in supporting a safe workplace.

It’s not necessary to pay fortunes for an over-complicated desk management solution with all the ‘bells and whistles’, it just needs to be simple to administer and easy for employees to book desks, car parking spaces (if required) and the necessary facilities. Some solutions are even free right now and are very quick and simple to set-up.

By ensuring employees can easily book desks in advance of them attending the office, this supports employee health and wellbeing. Employees will obviously feel less anxious knowing that when arriving at the office they will have a clean socially-distanced desk waiting for them. From the employer’s point of view, they have an overview of exactly who is in each office at any one time, ensuring overcrowding doesn’t take place while supporting track and trace. Such insights also allow the employer to understand whether the office is configured correctly for the number of people in the office, informing future workplace layouts and ways of working.

Desk management tech case study

An independent accountancy and wealth management provider is adopting a hybrid model of working across its seven offices, and employee health and wellbeing is informing its workplace arrangements.  All staff will be able to book a socially-distanced desk and car parking space as and when needed using a desk management solution, giving them peace of mind that when attending the office their welfare is a key consideration. The company will also be able to view office occupancy levels at a glance and look ahead to planned desk bookings so they can more effectively manage health and safety.

Until recently, the company had been using Outlook 365 calendars to manage desk bookings, however this was cumbersome, time consuming and prone to errors. On top of this, it couldn’t provide an holistic view of office occupancy levels.

Moving from roughly 20 per cent of staff occasionally going into the office since March 2020 to a hybrid model for all 330 partners and staff just couldn’t be managed in a safe way without the right supporting technology in place. The company now feels prepared as staff return to the office, and confident that they’re managing employee health and wellbeing best they can.

A final word

As employees trickle back into the office, it’s vital that HR facilitates a safe and stress-free return. Considering employees’ concerns and anxieties combined with the practicalities of a physical return, will help to ensure a smooth transition and ensure staff feel cared for and considered at every stage. However, HR can’t operate in a vacuum to ensure all the practicalities of a safe return have been considered, but must work in partnership with the facilities/operations team. This collaborative approach will ensure employees’ wellbeing remains a top priority.

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