FLUENT: Perspectives from Softcat

RETURN TO OFFICE:

WHY THE WORKFORCE COMING BACK WILL BE DIFFERENT TO THE ONE THAT LEFT

AUTHOR

Rob Parkinson CIO Softcat

With insights from:

Rebecca Monk, HR Director, Softcat

Marc Crew, Facilities Manager, Softcat

The events of the pandemic have been hugely impactful, on both a personal and professional level. The restrictions have changed our experience of work, separated us from friends and family, and stopped us doing the things we love. Many people will have also experienced tragic loss in the past year.

So, as restrictions loosen thanks to the national vaccination effort, employers will need to be prepared to welcome the workforce back with the understanding that the people coming back won’t be the same as those who left. In this article, we explore – with assistance from Marc Crew, Facilities Manager and Rebecca Monk, HR Director at Softcat - how organisations can successfully initiate a return to the office from a technology and wellbeing perspective.

ADAPTING TO NEW WORKPLACE PRACTICES

According to the ONS, homeworking more than doubled in 2020. And for many employees, they haven’t stepped foot in the office since last March.

Businesses and their people were growing used to remote working prior to the events of 2020, but the scale and speed at which it was adopted last spring was unprecedented. With plans in place for life to return to a form of normal, guidance for most organisations is to continue to work from home until then (at least).

So, while it won’t be long until employees will be encouraged to return to the office, we’re most likely going to see a new hybrid model, combining the best of what home and office working can provide. Hybrid work allows employees to fit their work around their personal life while still giving them the structure and stability of office working for part of the week.

In March 2021, Softcat implemented a hybrid working policy in advance of any formal return to office campaign. The aim of implementing this early was to attract our people back into the office without pushing them back in at a pace they weren’t comfortable with. Many of the learnings and investments we’ve made during the past year of homeworking will also help to support successful hybrid working, too.

Employees will now be well used to communicating with colleagues, managers and senior leaderships virtually. The largest shift for us was the adoption of Microsoft Teams and we expect this to continue to be our de facto collaboration tool as we move to hybrid working. As a company famous for its office culture that supports and nurtures strong personal relationships, ensuring this continues remains a top priority as we mix home and office working environments.

Despite everyone’s best efforts, some employees have naturally experienced a greater emotional impact from the events of the pandemic. According to a report on mental and physical health impacts of home working during COVID-19 published by The Royal Society for Public Health, 67 percent of workers said they felt less connected to their colleagues and 56 percent found it harder to switch off. So, when returning to the office, we must take all employees concerns and anxieties into consideration and continue to monitor and promote emotional wellbeing. At Softcat we’ve always had a very flat hierarchal structure; we actively encourage everyone to ask questions and talk directly to the Senior Leadership Team.

Throughout the pandemic, communication was open, free-flowing and transparent – combining large scale broadcast messaging, as well as smaller group sessions and open questions and answer forums. On top of this, we established a buddy scheme, helping to forge some amazing conversations and relationships that continue to grow from strength to strength. We also launched our Communities programme, which has seen groups of like-minded individuals come together to share their passions and hobbies. It has been a great boost to people who have found a shared love with colleagues, helped form new bonds and given them so much more to talk to each other about than just work. As part of our return to office drive, we will continue running these programmes and initiatives to help everyone stay connected, wherever they work from.

LIMITING THE EMOTIONAL WELLBEING IMPACTS

PROVIDING EXTRA SUPPORT AND REASSURANCE

Whilst the end of restrictions may deem it safe to let employees return to the office, you can’t force them to. Employers and their Facilities and HR teams have a duty of care to carry out various risk assessments, clearly communicate new policies and measures with employees and ensure everyone is (and feels) safe. At Softcat, our Facilities Manager Marc Crew has been hard at work ensuring that all our nine office locations have been adapted sufficiently to adhere to current COVID-19 safety guidelines.

This includes implementing social distancing rules, reducing building capacity by 50 percent, adopting NHS QR Codes and Track and Trace systems, utilising an ‘every other desk method’, adding sanitising stations and implementing one-way systems. According to Marc: “All staff have been advised to wear face coverings when moving around the buildings. “We have actively monitored the number of staff needing to attend the office, ensuring those who have mental wellbeing needs can still be in the office and feel safe.

“We have direct lines of communication in place to advise staff if we have a possible positive test, with contractors on standby to attend any of our offices and carry out the necessary ‘fogging’ to enable a safe return.” Meanwhile, our HR team is playing a vital role in Softcat’s return to office strategy, ensuring concerns and anxieties are understood along the way via surveys, focus groups and one-to-one discussions. Rebecca Monk, HR Director at Softcat explained: “It's important to talk to people individually if they have particular concerns about coming back to into work, to get to the bottom of their concerns.

"Where possible, HR and line managers can reassure staff and alleviate concerns, but there's no point in pushing people too hard as it could backfire and leave them feeling even less confident than they were in the first place. "Some people may want to apply for permanent working from home arrangements, and these will need to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis dependent on the needs of the role.”

A return to the office won’t be a fast or simple process, but every organisation must take the time to decide on the best and safest way, consulting with and keeping individuals up to date along the way. It’s clear the way we work will never be the same again, but a hybrid approach may well be the best approach we’ve ever taken, balancing productivity with wellbeing gains and, importantly, giving individuals the freedom to choose.

A U T H O R

Rob Parkinson CIO Softcat

Rob is an IT and Operational leader with extensive management experience in complex multi-national environments and VAR organisations. He is passionate about the transformative role IT plays in business.


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