A vector image of a laptop with six people on a virtual call. One man appears to be escaping the virtual call with a briefcase, showing a return to the office.
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The green light: Employers must be cautious when returning to offices

1 Sep 2021

Following the news of a phased return to offices on 20 September, what do employers need to think about?

Last week, Siliconrepublic.com explored the future of work and what it means within the context of the new normal that has spawned as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Now, following An Taoiseach’s address to the nation yesterday (31 August), we can expect to go back to to some version of what was previously considered normal: a return to offices and workplaces.

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The announcement was welcome news for many industry bodies. The Institute of Directors’ chief executive, Maura Quinn, said the reopening roadmap brings both clarity and certainty in the short term.

“Our research has shown a resurgence of optimism among business leaders over the past few months and the Government’s roadmap is a further boost to the economy and to wider society,” she said.

However, while this green light can definitely be seen as a positive in many ways, caution and restraint must be exercised by companies in order to get their own road to reopening right.

Niamh Graham, senior vice-president of global human experience at Workhuman, said employers need to assess the impact that remote working has had on company culture as they start planning their return.

“Even with a hybrid model of working, it’s important to encourage people to take the time not only to step away from work, but also to make room for important human moments, whether that’s in the office or online. Because, at the end of the day, if human connection is lacking, then productivity and employee wellbeing will go down.”

HR body CIPD Ireland has also welcomed the plan to reopen offices but has warned about the challenges employers are facing to get the balance right.

The organisation’s director Mary Connaughton said employers will need to focus on “what the reopening will look like for them”, as no two workplaces are the same.

Steady as she goes

A week ahead of this announcement, I wrote about the rocky road to reopening and the importance of employers taking things slowly and really considering how best to run their workplace in the future.

We only need to look across the pond to see how powering ahead with a full reopening can have an adverse effect.

Apple, which has been determined to bring its staff back to the office for several months, was forced to postpone its reopening plans to next year due to a surge in Covid-19 cases.

The latest major tech office to delay its plans is Google. Its chief executive Sundar Pichai informed staff earlier this week that the tech giant’s return-to-office date will be pushed out to January 2022.

If this tells Irish employers anything, it should be that while they have been given the signal to essentially press ‘go’, they need to make sure they have an emergency brake in place too.

‘Leaders need to listen to their workers when it comes to mapping a course that suits them’
– MARY CONNAUGHTON

Aside from the unpredictable nature of the virus itself, workplaces still have to consider the human element of the workplace – that is, their employees – and what is truly best for them.

Yes, there is now an official green light and an official date for Irish offices, but that does not mean every company must slam their foot on the accelerator without looking left, right and, most importantly, in the rear-view mirror.

Hybrid working has now widely been acknowledged as the way forward for many workplaces. Bringing this in will mean careful and thoughtful planning for each employer.

Every workplace is different and so is every employee, and while employers may not be able to accommodate each and every individual need perfectly, refusing to make any attempts will only lead to a loss of talent.

Connaughton added: “Leaders need to listen to their workers when it comes to mapping a course that suits them.”

With this in mind, CIPD Ireland shared a checklist for management teams to bear in mind going forward. This includes the advice to expect anxiety from employees. CIPD recommends providing an induction for returning to the office and for employers give hybrid working a chance.

These steps should not be seen as a ‘nice to have’, but as the bare minimum to start with when it comes to reopening.

Yesterday’s green light to open offices should absolutely be seen as welcome news and it gives employers three weeks to prepare for 20 September – bearing in mind, that no company is actually required to return on that date if they don’t want to or are not ready.

In fact, the news should not be seen as permission to slam down on the accelerator, but merely as permission to start your engines – and only if you feel it is truly the right course of action for your workforce.

Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the deputy editor of Silicon Republic in 2020, having worked as the careers editor until June 2019. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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