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  • How Businesses Can Start Planning for Their Return to the Office

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  • Six steps businesses should take before beginning to transition back to the workplace.

    Experts across sectors have acknowledged the need to plan for the eventual transition back to location-based working. That transition is about the only thing anyone can comment on with certainty: it will happen, but we don’t know when and we don’t know what it’s going to look like when it does.

    So, what can businesses do and where exactly should they start? Before an organisation considers its plan for implementing change, it needs to create the right climate, bring its people onboard and empower them with the tools and processes they’ll need to sustain that change. It’s a simple process and it works, which is exactly why we’ve used it as a framework for formulating our own future-planning methodology.

    Our process is made of three phases: Now, which focuses on gathering data from our teams, Transition, which uses the data and official guidance to determine how the office functions safely during reintegration, and Future, which uses data and our expertise to shape where and how we work. The following six steps form the Now phase of our process, and set businesses up for success as they prepare to move into the Transition phase.

  • 1.  Form your response team

    Form a diverse, multidisciplinary team with a designated programme lead and business sponsor empowered to make key decisions on behalf of the business.

    “Pick the right team, focus on the ‘big goal’ and just be relentless in getting a great result,” says Pete Dalzell, Oktra’s CEO and our response team’s Business Sponsor.

    Of our programme lead, Claire Elliott, Pete explains that “Claire is an incredibly fast processor of information, critical in this frenzied world of new insight and new thinking. She is what I’d call a ‘practical creative’: able to find exciting, stimulating solutions that are always workable.”

    Your response team will lead your business through this planning process and help devise a plan for transitioning back to the workplace once it’s safe to do so.

  • 2.  Find your thought framework

    Find a framework for thinking that will enable you to chart a course of direction.

    With limited guidance from government and healthcare officials, it will be critically important to regularly revise and update your business’s navigation plan: using a consistent thought framework will help align every iteration.

    There are plenty of approaches outlined by industry experts. Some of our reference points include Cushman & Wakefield’s ‘Recovery Readiness: A How-to Guide for Reopening Your Workplace,’ and Steelcase’s ‘Navigating What’s Next: The Post-COVID Workplace.’

    “At the start of our journey we were in chaos and confusion,” says our Group Technical Design Director and now Programme Lead, Claire Elliott. “So many documents and articles have been produced, many of which are reinventions of a wheel that actually does not exist.”

    “We took a breath,” she explains, emphasising that it was important to prioritise a calm and thoughtful approach during a time that has brought panic for many. “We realigned ourselves, formed our response team, sifted through all the documents and data and came up with a foundation plan that we could build on.”

    Claire shares that the most important thing for Oktra, “was to ensure everyone in the company was involved and joined this journey together, listening to the same messages at the same time.”

  • 3.  Set up a system for collecting data

    Set up a system for collecting insights and information from key stakeholders including but not limited to: your team, clients, partners, your landlord and the government.

    Your people are the guiding force for your re-integration plan. Establish a data collection system to gain a true understanding of wants, needs and concerns. Whether or not your workforce is comfortable or able to return to work will decide whether you start planning the re-opening of your workplace or find new ways to support your remote workforce. Your system should enable you to capture data throughout this process in order to accurately reflect current sentiment and updated government guidance.

    “With so much uncertainty clouding our ability to move forward at speed with confidence, it is essential that businesses plug into the sentiment of their key stakeholders throughout this process,” says Ben Lonsdale, Oktra’s Strategic Operations Director. He explains, “these feedback loops help to mitigate any risk, preventing the alienation of the most fundamental part of your operating model – your people.”

    We’ve just completed the first round of our Employee Sentiment Survey, and are offering our template as a starting point for your own – fill out the form at the bottom of this webpage to request a copy.

  • 4.  Complete user journey mapping

    Complete user journey mapping to understand the challenges your people will face travelling to the office.

    How will employees get from their homes to the workplace and is it safe to do so? Remember that obstacles will be emotional and political as well as practical; some employees will feel safe commuting to work, others will not. You’ll need to come up with a way to monitor perception and sentiment. The resulting information will create a framework for design, amenities and remote working considerations.

    “Our survey results show travel is high on people’s minds.  What is the point of providing a safe office environment for people if their main concern is the journey from their front door to the office entrance?” explains Claire.

    “Our North office may be the first to partially return to a safe working environment as the team there commutes using cars or bicycles. Our South office has a mix of walkers, drivers and public transport users, while many employees from our London office normally use the train or tube,” she says.

    “Using public transportation will have an effect on safe travel and staggered work times, not to mention added commute time if social distancing remains in place in stations and on trains.”

  • 5.  Understand the limitations of your space

    Start to understand the limitations of your current space, using design principles established by the government and insights from stakeholder feedback.

    Space plans are a great place to start understanding the implications of official safety measures like two-metre distancing. Use stakeholder feedback to get a more accurate idea of people’s feelings towards the proposed environment. You’ll also need to include your landlord in the process as they play an instrumental part in deciding what is and isn’t possible in your building and planning for safe communal spaces.

    “For me the office layout is a small cog in a big wheel,” says Claire. “As designers, we could redesign layouts to meet current social distancing and safe working guidelines, but these guidelines are changing.”

    Claire explains that Oktra is focusing on understanding their teams’ concerns, challenges and demands for how the office functions during the Transition and into the Future.

    “It’s an inclusive journey,” she explains, adding that “the final layout is very much unknown and that is absolutely fine – we will adapt and change as the guidelines flux to ensure that, if and when we do get our staff back to the office, it will be in the safest and most functional way possible.”

    Request a callback from our workplace experts to discuss space rationalisation exercises, surveys and modifications to existing space and designing new workspace using government guidelines and stakeholder feedback.

  • 6.  Communicate your plan

    Develop a specific communications approach to let everyone know that you have a course of direction, a team to guide the business through the process and a system set up so everyone can help shape the path forward.

    Bringing your people on the journey by communicating effectively and openly is arguably the most important part of this process. Successful navigation depends on constant communication as businesses update their processes and policies to reflect current guidance and regulations. In other words, yesterday’s plans will need to be tested against today’s logic and updated as subsequent versions over time.

    “In the current climate, you won’t always be able to control how the outside pressure will impact your organisation,” says Ben. “You can, however, take control of how your organisation internally manages the process,” he explains, adding that “clear and constant communication will help your teams feel empowered to commit and engage in the desired change.”

  • No one knows what the move back to the workplace will look like for sure, but we do know how to begin planning for it. Our workplace specialists can help you with any of the above steps in your planning process. From administering and analysing sentiment surveys to designing and delivering your final scheme, we’re here to help you move forward.

  • The Office Reintegration Checklist

    Start formulating a plan for reintegrating your workforce into the workplace with our free checklist.

    Download Now
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