Rushing back to the office? Maybe it's time to slow down

Some countries have given the greenlight to reopen workplaces, but just how many are going back in?

Rushing back to the office? Maybe it's time to slow down

After months of anticipation and planning, companies in Singapore are now slowly returning to offices. Workplaces will look a far cry from pre-COVID days, with safe management measures firmly in place.

To help leaders along on their ‘back to work’ plans the Singapore government has given several guidelines:

  • The office must always be at a maximum of 50% capacity
  • Employees who can, should continue to work from home
  • Employees need to split their time between the office and home
  • Strictly no socialising during or after hours
  • Absolutely no hanging out at the pantry
  • Masks remain mandatory

READ MORE: Back to the office? The HR checklist for returning to work

Even then, the ‘new normal’ will undeniably look different for different organisations. To get an idea of what employers in Asia are prioritising, HRD reached out to several HR leaders for some insights.

While their plans may differ slightly, majority of the leaders we spoke to agreed that they’ll likely keep the workplace at a low 25% to 50% capacity.

Only one leader at a financial services firm in Hong Kong believed their company’s ready to bring employees back in full – between 75% to 100% office capacity. However, they’ve got a flexi-hour work policy in place so that employees can avoid peak hour travel and lunchtime crowds.

Of those planning to keep the office sparse, two will be getting employees back in the office within the month.

Another HR director at an FMCG organisation said they’re ready to get staff back in so quickly as they “feel confident and safe to be back”. However, her team’s biggest worry is if Singapore is hit by another wave of infections.

“[Our challenge is] how we make people feel comfortable again in the office and create a safe space,” she said.

READ MORE: How will a second wave affect business recovery?

Another company aiming to get staff back within the month is letting employees decide how comfortable they feel about returning amidst the pandemic.

Their office is open “if anyone feels they want to come back”, said an HR head, but returnees are limited to three days a week.

Their motivation for adopting the policy was based on employee feedback, as staff were most concerned and had shared their worries about taking public transport.

READ MORE: Return to work: What employees expect from HR

Not heading back in so soon
Then there are employers who think it safer to wait it out a little longer before returning. A logistics company is only planning a proper return in the next three months. They’ll also keep the office at a quarter or half capacity at most.

Employees at the firm have agreed to go back to the office at least once a week, with work from home remaining as the “default arrangement”.

Two other respondents shared that they’ll be returning in the next three months.

Another two said they’ve only made plans to get back in office between six months and a year. One of whom citing that they’re “adjusting to working in the new normal”.

READ MORE: Back to business? HR’s role in the new normal

HR’s role in the ‘new normal’
And there’s absolutely no rush to have the new normal figured out. As Mark Barling, senior sales director at Achievers pointed out: what’s “normal is evolving”.

Barling shared his experiences in managing his team and how the HR leadership team at Achievers has been navigating 2020.

What he’s learned is despite the constant changes this year, employers remain “absolutely responsible” for the health and well-being of their staff.

And whatever arrangements companies decide to make, be it split teams or flexi-time, he believes HR take charge of managing a safe return to work.

“HR must be the guardian of the principles and practices with which they bring employees back into the workforce,” Barling told HRD.

That could mean anything from helping to manage necessary protective gear (PPE), to working with leaders to set out clear restrictions and guidelines for those back in the office.

“HR needs to be on the front foot, devising policy, being really clear around change management communication because I think that’s actually the piece that’s [frequently] lost,” he said.

“When we all disappeared from the office, it was really easy because we had a catalyst event. Coming back into the office – now that’s a question about the ‘why’ and the ‘what’. What’s the benefit to me as an employee?

“As for reassuring people that it’s not just a requirement to come back, we need to show that we’re asking staff to do so because we believe we’ve created a safe environment for eveyone to be back.”

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