Key factors in managing a return to the workplace

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Denis Barnard and Bhagyashree Pancholy, All Remotely

The pandemic forced many employers to ask their office-based employees to work from home. At first, these emergency measures were greeted with enthusiasm, but as time went on, it became evident that some employees were showing signs of depression and mental fatigue. 

Clearly, working from home (WFH) wasn’t easy, and managers had little or no experience in supporting their people remotely. 

When the all-clear is given to returning to workplaces, there are some key considerations confronting businesses, including what, if any, activities and personnel can continue to operate remotely. 

The arguments are persuasive: In more developed societies, daily commuting times of 2-4 hours are not unusual, broadband infrastructure is good, city office space rental is expensive, teams reported higher engagement and productivity levels and had more time to focus on their health. 

One of the most compelling reasons for going remote is the potential cost saving on office space. Here is an example: 

The average space required per office worker is conservatively estimated at 125 sq. ft. depending on activity. 

A London City office location costs around 72 GBP per square foot p.a. (source: Statista), which gives us a round figure of 9000 GBP per annum per employee. Service charges can pull this figure up to 10,000GBP p.a. This is before on-costs such as light, heat & power, furnishings and other ancillary charges.  

Thus, a department of eight people could show a gross saving of 80,000 GBP p.a. year on year. 

While the savings could be a natural factor to drive the transformation to hybrid or remote, there are some key factors that need to be evaluated. Over the last year, there was an unprecedented increase in workplace injuries and related teams as employees were confined in their homes, working from non-ergonomic furniture and battling the uncertainty and fear around the Coronavirus. 

Several courts of law around the globe blamed the employer for not paying attention to the wellness of employees and ruled in favour of the employees’ compensation claims. 

Broadly, employers should assess each employee on the following factors before making a decision on how the return to office will be managed:  

  • Psychological assessment to determine the level of support each employee will need 
  • Ergonomic workplace assessment to ensure that the correct equipment is made available 
  • Hardware and technology to access business systems effectively and monitor the employee 

If they haven’t already done so, employers should also redraft the employment contracts and workplace policies to ensure that the employees stay on the right side of the law and are informed of the changing ways to collaborate, communicate and manage 

Failure to plan the transition correctly will inevitably lead to varying claims against the employer will emphasise the duty of care towards the employees, and ultimately, will lead to the loss of valuable team members. 

There are compliance questions too: will allowing the employees to work remotely lead to payroll and tax complications (as the employee may choose to work outside of the city jurisdiction), while cybersecurity and data management and control issues must also be considered. 


Steps HR leaders can take 

As the team transitions, communication delays and collaboration challenges will happen (and it is normal), and will be reduced as the team settles into the new working arrangements while refining the process of communication and collaboration. 

  1. Keep a contingency for project delivery delays.  It will be common for the employees to take more time to deliver tasks as they may not be collaborating spontaneously in a physical environment 
  2. Add remote work to the emergency plan of the company 
  3. HR leaders must lead their teams as if they were a remote team: build playbooks, document policies, procedures, communication channels etc. 
  4. Look for tools and software that actually solve the problems of the teams by performing a thorough audit 
  5. Revisit the company’s mission and goals and align them with the changing team structure and management style 
  6. Invest heavily in employee wellness and focus on holistic growth of the team and company 
  7. If hiring new employees, assess them on remote working skills such as digital proficiency, time management and virtual communication 
  8. Harness the power of tech to aid employees to perform better and pick up on signs of employee stress, burn out and domestic abuse (the UK has asked employers to pick up on signs of domestic abuse in employees and address them immediately)

This is a key moment for HR to enable something amazingpersonalised and flexible work patterns for remote workers.  

Here are some examples: 

  • Mon-Fri 0800-1800 hrs with a 3 hour break 1200-1500 = 35 hrs 
  • Mon-Fri 1000–1830 hrs with 1.5 hr break 1300-1430   = 35 hrs 
  • Mon-Thur 0800–1800 hrs with 1.25 hr break 1230-1.45 = 35 hrs 

All fulfil the required hours, and at the same time, better enable the remote worker to cope with any domestic demands they may have. Indeed, the emphasis should be on protecting the employee, not, as initially the case for many employersmonitoring if they are working or not. 

This is revolutionary and could herald a new dawn in the trust equation between employer and employee. 

In the pre-Covid era, flexibility and remote work were differentiators, but now they will become a part of the norm, no longer being tagged as a ‘benefit’ in recruitment marketing. 

In the post-Covid world, HR will be tasked to lead the way for the recovery of the businesses and their teams and will transform how we work – the biggest transformation since the Industrial Revolution. 


About All Remotely

The All Remotely partnership helps employers understand the remote readiness of their employees and processes, by providing comprehensive assessments that enable co-located teams to transition to remote teams (either hybrid or work from home), build or scale up new teams as remote teams.

Denis Barnard

Denis W Barnard
Partner at All Remotely


Bhagyashree Pancholy

Bhagyashree Pancholy
Owner at All Remotely