Getting back to the office after lockdown

Jun 03 2020 by Andrew Parker Print This Article

The current situation has left many employers and employees alike having to navigate through uncharted territory. We have been quite fortunate at LifeSearch, having experienced a relatively smooth transition to our whole workforce working from home, in large part because we have employed flexible working practices for nearly a decade, and our cloud based structure allows our people to securely work from any location.

In the 10 years since we introduced flexible working, we have witnessed numerous positives for both the business and our employees. For one, many team members have reported benefits such as improvement to their work/life balance and savings to their travel costs. In our People and Culture team, we have a greater talent pool to choose from when recruiting and have noticed an improved retention rate among employees who return following maternity leave.

Nevertheless, with lockdown rules beginning to ease, attention is now turning to getting back to some semblance of normality, which obviously requires very careful planning.

For businesses now thinking about transitioning back to a ‘new normal’, here are some of the factors that need to be considered.

Consider who should return, and when

More than ever, companies are adopting technologies that mean many of us don’t have to physically be in the office to undertake work. Whilst some businesses will undoubtedly have had a smoother transition to flexible working than others, after almost two months of nation-wide lockdown, it’s likely many of the initial kinks in this will have been ironed out.

The coronavirus lockdown, as unwelcome as it may be, has forced businesses to trial a way of working they probably already knew was possible, and it’s likely many won’t need to return to pre-coronavirus methods – such as having all staff members in physical offices, five days a week.

Take the time to consider which teams or team members could continue doing their jobs with ease from home, assessing on a case by case basis.

As well as business needs, there may be personal factors. For some, working from home full time away from friends and team members may have affected their mental health, while for others, new childcare arrangements may make traveling difficult for now.

Having fewer people in the office will mean less strain on public transport and roads, and make it easier for those staff in the office to maintain distancing.

Assess the workspace

At LifeSearch we’ve been paying close attention to government guidelines to prepare the office ready for staff to return. Our meeting rooms will be out of use for the foreseeable future and we will no longer be hot-desking in the office so that we can minimise the risk of cross-infections.

We’ve also been having regular conversations with our landlords to ensure the office and facilities are properly sanitised and that shared spaces such as foyers, lobbies and bathrooms will be safe for us as well as the other companies that work in our buildings.

Mental health is key

In addition to making sure the physical space is ready for returning employees, we’ve also made sure we have processes in place to adequately support any mental health needs.

As well as the mental health challenges of being in lockdown, we’re preparing to support employees with any concerns around transitioning back to a ‘new normal’ too.

We have been working to upskill our first aiders in mental health first aid, and making sure staff are aware of our confidential Employee Assistance Programme, if they wish to seek third party support or counselling.

The management team, myself included, and all team leaders have been in regular contact with our people throughout the lockdown. We have 20 ‘frontline colleagues’ in the business , whose job it is to field phone calls, conduct regular check ins and address any concerns – whether related to mental health or any other area of happiness or wellbeing. We call this ‘Listening Ears’ and it has been well used.

And each week we’ve been sitting down together to take the temperature of the business and feed back to the senior leadership team. These conversations will be a key part of our strategy to transition our people back to work.

Prepare for a second wave

Whilst it’s not great to dwell on the negative, the fact remains there’s a chance that we could move back into more strict distancing measures in the future. In the event that this does occur, it’s best to remain prepared to move back to large scale home working.

Our technology team undertook a review and refresh of our infrastructure and equipment during 2019, which meant that our workforce was well-placed to work from home when the need arose. We migrated our technology infrastructure to the cloud and where needed, our staff moved from desktop machines to laptops, which has made us a fully flexible workforce. Not only is this beneficial in the event of large-scale lockdowns (or any emergency situation), but it also means individual employees have the flexibility to work from home at the last minute should they need to.

Continue the initiatives started during home working

We’ve empowered leaders to engage their teams through company ‘town hall meetings’ using the new video conferencing technologies that have emerged, as well as more light-hearted activities such as virtual pub quizzes, all of which serve to keep the conversation flowing about how are employees are feeling.

Our people have also enjoyed getting involved in making some powerful social videos to bring to light our fundraising efforts for two key NHS charities - Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity and Florence Nightingale Foundation. The ‘Thank You NHS’ initiative sees us make a donation to these charities for every family we protect, and to date we have raised £15,000 and this is set to rise three-fold.

At the time of writing, we’re also looking at sending out a confidential company-wide wellbeing survey so if there are any concerns that we’re not yet addressing, these can be raised and worked through.


About The Author

Andrew Parker
Andrew Parker

Andrew Parker is Head of People and Culture at LifeSearch, the UK’s largest life insurance broker. Based in Brighton, he has worked for LifeSearch, whose head office is based in Milton Keynes for over 15 years, and for many years has regularly worked flexibly from his home or a nearby café when not commuting to the office. LifeSearch ranked number #3 in the Sunday Times' 2019 list of Best Places to Work.