With the new year here, some of us are less concerned about New Year’s resolutions of old like losing weight and more concerned about what 2021 may mean for returning to work, in an actual office, with co-workers. If you’re a little so-so about it, you’re not alone. According to a survey by PwC, 70% of the 1000 workers that took part said they were apprehensive about returning to work as the pandemic continues.

So how do you handle a potential return to the office? These tips may help you out.

Return to office | Office and Co | Gauteng office space

Think about reshaping your office environment

If you’re heading back to the office you need to consider having a conversation with the powers that be about the way you want to work. We’re not talking about a list of demands like tripling the length of your lunch hour, but rather more meaningful things like considering what did and didn’t work when you were remote, what did and didn’t work when you were office-bound and blending the best of those together. The words of workspace researcher Jennifer Magnolfi Astill ring true: “Workspace evolution is not top down, it’s bottom up. When it comes from the users [that’s you], it’s usually the kind that proves to have lasting value.” And if there was ever a time to evolve, it’s now.

What kind of workspace do you see yourself in moving forward? Can you put a proposal together (maybe with some colleagues) and get it on the desk of the decision maker? By doing this you’re evolving your office and hopefully turning it into a space where you and others can thrive. Plus, by taking control in this way you’re not only reducing your stress in an already pretty ‘stressy’ time, but also enhancing motivation and overall growth.

Here’s a basic structure for writing a proposal:

  • Summarise the purpose of your proposal in a short paragraph at the start. Keep your tone just a touch hoity-toity. Remember you need formality in all business communication, especially if you’re tabling something new. Don’t go as far as to use Shakespearean thous but do keep it proper.
  • Describe your problem or need. This is where you’ll balance fact (what are other office spaces around the world doing, practicalities, stats) and emotion (how are you and your colleagues feeling, how do other people feel).
  • Then lay out what the goal of your proposal is i.e., a revised way of working in the office and what that looks like in specific terms. Have you done any provisional planning already? When do you envision this proposal kicking off? Who else needs to be involved i.e., HR?
  • What do you believe the outcome of this proposal will be? What positive impacts will it have?
  • How will things be evaluated so you (and the big bosses) know they’re working as time passes, and that things like productivity and overall output haven’t slipped? Can you chat to HR about putting some metrics in place, or even IT to monitor time spent in certain programmes and on certain activities?
  • Is there going to be a cost, both financial and in terms of time, expertise etc? Get all of that down.
  • Those final, satisfying steps are giving it a good proofread and choosing a cover page. Try leaving this till last; slapping a cover page on an already-complete proposal is somewhat thrilling.

But, and it’s a big but, before you do any of this you need to take a lesson out of John Kotter’s book Leading Change:

“By far the biggest mistake people make when trying to change organizations is to plunge ahead without establishing a high enough sense of urgency in fellow managers and employees. This error is fatal because transformations always fail to achieve their objectives when complacency levels are high.”

Don’t underestimate how hard it is to drive people out of their comfort zones; this is another sage piece of Kotter’s advice. Your proposal will naturally propose change and you need everyone to know that it’s not only important, but to expect some growing pains and discomfort (even if the change is good).

Ask your employer the burning questions

Before the big return to the office you need to be candid about your concerns with your employer. What workplace policies are in place to not only safeguard your well-being but give you peace of mind while working your nine to five? If you’re going the proposal route mentioned above, how will these policies or procedures be factored in and can they be factored in?

According to legal powerhouse Bowmans, employers must conduct a risk assessment and have a Workplace Plan in place to handle any COVID-related issues in the office. If there are more than 50 people working in your office, there are additional requirements including assessing the vulnerability status of each employee. Your employer also needs to assist in referring you to a public health facility should you test positive among other steps.

The Department of Employment and Labour has also produced a 12-page guide on workplace preparedness for COVID-19 which you can find here. It’s worth a read whether you’re an employer or employee.

You’ve heard it on repeat but we’ll repeat it again…

You must take the necessary precautions when working in your office. There’s no need to MacGyver your mask so you can simultaneously keep it on while sipping your morning brew, but ensuring you’re masked when you’re talking to a colleague and moving between desks is essential. Mask off for a sip of something or a bite of that sarmie? No prob. But let’s not get lost in conversation without one on. And yes, keeping your hands sanitised is right up there on the must-do list. And, since it feels like we’re doing this almost 24/7 anyway, we’ve saved you the trouble of having to lug that one litre, industrial strength sanitiser from home, to car, to office and instead found this quite elegant wristband hand sanitiser dispenser unit which you can wear on your wrist throughout the day. And this one which costs a little more for the real fashion conscious.

Lastly, just see how you go

We’re in the middle of a pandemic, nerves are frayed, patience is wearing thin and everyone is sick of having to quadruple check if they have a mask on them each time they set foot outside their front door. You are allowed to be a bit unsure, grumpy, irritated. You are allowed to ask a thousand questions of your employer about how working in an office is going to work. Right now, and even Psychology Today agrees, you need to be gentle with yourself. You don’t need to do every work task entirely perfectly or put yourself under pressure to suddenly hypercharge your productivity now that you’re back at your work desk. Give yourself time.

Having said that, the office environment is in fact the best place to reclaim your productivity and reduce work-family conflict among other pretty good reasons. You can take a read here.

Heading back to the office isn’t all bad. Just ask us; we’re in the business of good looking, affordable, flexible office spaces that are not only fully COVID compliant but also plain nice to be in. Why not explore our Joburg and Cape Town spaces today; you could even make us part of that back-to-work proposal.

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    Please complete the form below and we will get back to you soonest. We look forward to discussing your office space requirements.