More and more organisations are now actively planning for employees return to the office, or have already started the process. In many cases, new hybrid working patterns are being introduced whereby employees are working two or three days from home, and then coming into the workplace for the remainder of the week. The pace of the return to the office across different organisations and locations varies dramatically as the situation is still fluid, and restrictions and guidance can change rapidly.
At the start of the pandemic, intranet and digital workplace teams pulled out all the stops in order to support the scaled-up remote working that has kept businesses operational. Now, as we return to the office and adopt hybrid working patterns, it’s worth considering some of the changes and tactics to adopt in supporting employees when they return to the office.
Below are a few checklist suggestions for intranet and digital workplace teams as we return to the office.
1 Creating an intranet-based return to the office hub or equivalent
Intranets and digital workplaces provide clear, authoritative and trusted information on working matters. During the pandemic, many teams created a COVID-19 hub that aggregated communications, guidance and resources relating to navigating the pandemic, bringing important information into one convenient, easy-to-find place. Sometimes, additional hubs dedicated to topics such as homeworking were also created.
Now as we return to the office, creating a similar hub and perhaps integrating it into your existing COVID-19 area is a good way to help employees find all the information they need in one convenient place. This could link through to some of the information, resources and apps we suggest below.
2 Location-specific information
While there may well be some generic policies and communications which apply to employees returning to all your locations, there might also be a high degree of variation in the detail depending on where the office is located, the nature of the building and the employees and functions who are working there. Global companies will almost certainly have some offices open and some closed, with different rules depending on local regulations and guidance.
It is imperative that an intranet or digital workplace provides access to the individual information specific to each office for local teams to refer to. Having an overall schedule of the opening status of each location with links to local information can also be useful, particularly if one employee is planning a communication with a colleague from another office and wants to know if they are likely to be at home or in the office.
3 Detailed guidance on social distancing and other behaviours
Many offices are likely to have some degree of social distancing operating through a combination of reduced number of people in the office, new rules regarding movement through buildings, measures to reduce likelihood of infection and more. Having details of this guidance is crucial so everybody knows what is expected of them when they come into the office, and the changes they need to make to their usual working patterns. While communications will focus on the main points, providing a more detailed version of the measures keeping them safe can give further confidence to employees who are nervous about returning to the office.
4 Leadership communications
The return to the office is an emotive subject that generates a range of opinions; some employees are desperate to return, while others are nervous about coming back to the physical workplace. Continuing adherence to social distancing guidelines can also be controversial. Leadership communications that provide details on the why as well as the how are important to provide clarity and make sure everyone is on the same page relating to the return to the office.
5 Integrations and access to apps that support hybrid working
A key area where intranets and digital workplaces can provide value is to facilitate easy access to all the additional apps that support hybrid working patterns and a safe return to the office. An intranet or Microsoft Teams can provide access to these apps through either links or more direct integration. We covered some of these apps in an article about how the digital workplace supports hybrid working. They can include:
- Survey and screening tools for health declarations required for anyone attending the office
- Meeting room, desk booking and shift management tools that help with capacity management and regulate the flow of people coming into the office
- Scheduling tools so teams can co-ordinate visits to the office
- Wayfaring tools to reflect new rules about movement through the office
- Access to learning resources and courses relating to new procedures surrounding office visits
- Mandatory reads on documents relating to the return to the office that employees are required to read
- Surveys and polls to check in with employees and find out about issues relating to the return to the office that need attention from management.
6 Forms and workflow to cover gaps
Some of the apps mentioned above may require specialist software. If you haven’t got a particular app in place, simple forms and workflow that can be deployed relatively easily using a tool like Microsoft Forms can provide a stopgap to support information gathering and approval workflow related to the return to the office. For example, you can deploy forms to cover health screening, information gathering and even desk booking in a way that will be more efficient than using email. Usually, forms can be easily integrated into your intranet and Teams experience.
7 A support community
Inevitably, employees will have questions relating to the return to the office. Having a support community on a social platform like Yammer can provide a good route for employees to ask questions and get authoritative answers, as well as swap tips relating to some of the changes surrounding hybrid working. A support community can also help with employee health and wellbeing.
8 Turn back on the staff restaurant menu!
And finally, if your staff canteen is operational again, don’t forget to feature the staff restaurant menu on your intranet! This has always been a popular intranet staple, but has been missing from most intranets for the past eighteen months. If you’re returning to the office, it’s time to post that menu again!
Supporting the return
Digital workplace and intranets can play a significant role in supporting a smooth return to the office. We’ve listed a few ideas above for teams to consider. If you’d like to discuss how your digital workplace can better support hybrid working, then get in touch!