17th Jul 2020

Returning to the office: the new normal

As we enter the fifth month of living with some form of lockdown, we now turn our attention to how we can safely and effectively put the wheels in motion for returning to work in the office and adapting to the ‘new normal’.

Author: Lucci Levi

Last week, we hosted a remote roundtable for individuals in people-focused roles within our portfolio. The focus was on returning to the office and what that could mean for different organisations. While there is no clear one-size-fits-all approach, here we breakdown some of the key considerations you should be thinking about when planning your next steps.

Talk to your team

This may sound obvious but a frequent suggestion was to ask employees directly about how they would like to work moving forward. This would include their views on how and where they would feel safest, work most efficiently and the timeline for returning to the office. For the companies that had already surveyed their teams, the results did vary, but a majority found that their teams were most comfortable working in a hybrid system: some days working in the office and some days working from home.

How could a hybrid system work?

When dealing with a hybrid set up, one of the main questions asked was 'how can you tell if employees are more efficient when remote working or working from the office?' Some of our businesses who have been remote-first since inception explained that you have to have a high degree of trust but there are other things you can do to help efficiency. For example:

  • Provide your employees with all the equipment they need to work from home (chairs, screens, tables, etc.)
  • Have a virtual 'all hands' meeting weekly or biweekly, which lets team members give an overview of what they have done in the week and to plan for the following week
  • Have a 'buddy' system to help support and share knowledge with each other

Provide a safe physical environment

For those who are physically going into the office, health and safety are obviously at the forefront of everyone's minds. It is important that the correct safety measures are being adhered to and the appropriate PPE (personal protective equipment) is being provided to employees. This includes face masks, sanitiser and re-organising office space to allow for social distancing. The implementation of these measures is vitally important and individual responsibility for adhering to them should be encouraged by those in management roles.

Make commuting as safe as possible

A great suggestion was adapting the workday to avoid rush hour; allowing employees to travel more safely by public transport. This could mean starting/ finishing earlier, or later or perhaps simply prioritising in-person work for the most important meetings or face-to-face tasks and allowing everything else to be done from home. Companies that don't have enough space/desks to spread out suggested implementing shift patterns i.e. different teams go in on different days. Many of our companies have also signed up for the ‘cycle to work scheme' which allows employers to loan cycles and cyclists' safety equipment to employees as a tax-free benefit and may allow employees to commute to work without requiring public transport.

Support with mental health

Of course, mental health is a key concern for all of us moving forward. It was clear from the roundtable that everyone wants to make sure that their people are in the right headspace to return to the office following what has been a surreal few months.

A few of our companies have enforced days off (separate from annual leave) for different individuals, departments, or company-wide to allow people to recharge. Adapting to the new conditions of work (and the wider world) can make even the more day-to-day tasks feel more intense and the onus is on those in management positions to understand the impact on their employees (and themselves!).

A recommendation given for a useful app to help in these uncertain times was Health Assured, a mental health service that gives users access to 24hr support from qualified therapists and offers you a safe space to discuss any difficulties you may be having. Another service, and one that we use at MMC is Yulife, an insurance company that helps encourage teams to be active and meditate in exchange for rewards from big brands such as Avios, Asos and Nike. Yulife also gives access to 'Doctor on Demand' services including 24/7 virtual GPs for members and their families.

Provide opportunities for employees to speak up

It is key to promote a culture (whether remote or in the office) where people feel they are able to openly discuss any issues they’re having/ the world is having, free from judgment. Certain people will be fine with the changes happening around them whereas others may need more support; this is to be expected and it is vital that no assumptions are made about the mental wellbeing of anyone in the business. If people don’t feel comfortable talking about their issues they won’t; in some cases, this will lead to these issues becoming more acute as time goes on.

A few of our companies suggested having a specific forum, such as a Slack channel focused on wellbeing. This would create a place for anyone to voice issues they may be facing and make sure they’re being addressed in the right way. It would also create a place to share helpful information, articles and other materials that focus on building a positive working environment.

Whatever the coming weeks and months hold, creating a safe and inclusive environment whether that is remote, office-based or hybrid will be a key priority for all companies. At MMC we’ll be going through the same challenges ourselves as well as considering how we can best support our portfolio companies through the same issues. If you have ideas or comments you want to share with us, please get in touch via @MMC_Ventures.

If you’re an MMC portfolio company and want to understand how we might be able to help support this transition process, please get in touch with me for more information.

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