Adapting to the new office culture

May 08, 2020

As exit plans for the COVID-19 lockdown start to emerge, businesses need to focus on how best to manage the ‘new norm’, says Teresa Campbell.

Remote working became normal for thousands of office workers in recent weeks as businesses turned to modern technologies to continue operating during the COVID-19 lockdown. As restrictions are lifted, a priority for businesses in the coming months will be to provide a safe environment for employees and customers. However, it will also be important to not lose sight of the overall culture within the business.

Undoubtedly, the quick shift to remote working has caused anxiety within workforces. The right culture within a business needs to embrace this change, recognise the new challenges employees are facing and provide the right level of support and encouragement.

As working from home is likely to continue, at least for some workers, this will be a new challenge for businesses whose culture up to now may not have involved managing remote teams. Good communication will be more important than ever with regular check-ins between managers and their teams. Team engagement mechanisms will also be needed – for example, virtual team meetings, virtual coffees and other social interactions. This is important to ensure that staff do not feel isolated and everyone feels part of a team.

While technology is the key enabler of remote working, it also presents risks that need to be identified and managed. Homeworkers may be targeted by cybercriminals seeking to gain access to an employer’s network, routers may be attacked, data may be compromised, or video conferencing security may be breached. IT teams will likely need additional resources to protect data, defend against cybercrime and ensure policies are up-to-date and communicated to staff.

Returning to the workplace

Employees may feel anxious about returning to work while there are still cases of COVID-19 in the community. Employers will need to be sensitive to these concerns and put procedures in place for a phased return of staff.

At a practical level, office spaces may need to be reconfigured to accommodate physical distancing between workstations, in meeting rooms and common areas like canteens and coffee stations. Perspex screens between workstations may need to be installed along with hand sanitising stations. Staggering return dates and working hours may also be necessary, depending on operational needs. 

Looking to the medium- and longer-term, businesses may need to move away from open plan, accelerate the adoption of new technologies, and introduce processes such as thermal screening to monitor employees and visitors and keep workplaces safe.

Changeable working environment

Retaining culture within the “new normal” workplace will have to recognise that the new working environment will be a mixture of home, office and online. Interacting with staff through the use of collaborative tools, supporting staff with more flexible work patterns, and communication practices will all be key to enable staff to adapt their personal work structure and routine, which will ultimately be productive and effective.

The most successful businesses will adapt quickly to the new norm and the challenging demands COVID-19 presents, by putting measures in place over the coming days and weeks, positioning their business to respond faster than competitors to the rise in demand, once restrictions are lifted.

Teresa Campbell is the People and Culture Director at PKF-FPM Accountants Limited.