Preparing to return to the office? Here are some top tips

Written by: Jennifer Jackson
Published on: 1 Sep 2021

Penguin Recruitment

Harriet Allan at Penguin Recruitment shares advice on how to make a successful transition back to the office. 


While some organisations are opting to continue with 100% remote working forever, others are looking at hybrid options as well as full-time office working. Whether you are an employee or employer, whatever arrangements you will be facing, there are likely to be some challenges ahead. 

Harriet Allan, team manager – planning, economics & urban design at Penguin Recruitment, offers advice to help you make a successful transition back to the office, if that is indeed what you plan to do.

As employers start to unveil their post pandemic visions for work, what sort of considerations do they need to make when it comes to welcoming staff back to the office?

The top priority is staff safety and the government requires all workplaces to complete a full risk assessment before employees can return to the office. Another big consideration that employers need to contemplate is how their employees are going to cope with returning to the office, as some staff may be feeling anxious about it. Everyone was thrown into home working last year and adapted their working style and life around this. While most candidates in the market seem keen to get back into the office in some capacity, employers may find that an adjustment period is needed.

For those who have a ‘return to the office’ firmly in sight, what can employees do to prepare themselves mentally and physically?

Assuming your employer will allow this then requesting a phased return to the office seems like a good way of easing yourself back in. Start with being in the office one day a week and build yourself up to it. If you’ve been working from home since the start of the pandemic, then it is likely that you’ve become accustomed to sleeping a little later in the mornings. Getting back into the swing of getting up earlier to accommodate your commute before your return date will make things easier. If you’re anxious about commuting again, doing a test run or two should help calm any nerves. 

How can employers effectively communicate their ‘return to the office’ plans to employees and prospective employees alike?

I think the main thing is to make sure that employees are given plenty of notice about the return to office plan so they have time to prepare for the office working culture again. Employers should also ensure that all staff have open lines of communication with line managers or HR to discuss any queries or concerns.

If someone is applying for a new job, what kinds of questions should they ask the employer about their return to office plans?

I’d normally suggest asking open questions, so instead of questions along the lines of “are you allowing staff to homework?” try questions such as:

  • What is your company’s stance on flexible working? 
  • When do you expect the offices to be open? 
  • How do you see the office looking this time next year?

Allowing your potential new employer to explain their plans rather than presenting them with a yes/no question will help you get a much better picture of their return to office plans.

With flexible working set to stay post-Covid, many employees may be reluctant to give up the flexibility and autonomy they have embraced over the last 15 months. How can employers address any resistance?

Openly. Speaking with candidates in the market it’s clear that the majority of people have enjoyed the flexibility of homeworking and don’t want to return to the office full time. They’ve worked hard over the last 18 months, they’ve adjusted well and for the most part have proven that they can effectively do their role remotely. Employers can address this by clearly explaining the reasons why they need staff back in the office, rather than why they want them back. For example, one common argument seems to be that junior or new members of the team need to have colleagues working around them to help them develop and settle in. Of course, reassuring staff that the office will be Covid secure and fully explaining the steps the company has taken to secure their safety should also be communicated.

What should someone do if they relocated during the pandemic and is now being asked to return to the office full-time?

This is such a tricky one and will vary case by case. If you’ve relocated and have no plans to move back within a commutable distance from the office then I would suggest scheduling a meeting with your employer and explaining the situation and why you decided to relocate. Be prepared to back up your stance by highlighting your performance while working remotely and have a clear plan on how you feel you could make it work being at home permanently. You may be able to come up with a solution, such as. attending the office one day a week or month.

How can employers avoid returning to a pre-pandemic culture of presenteeism?

Getting yourself to work when you’re not feeling great is something we’ve all done. However, this has a huge effect on productivity – both yours and your colleagues’. Nobody wants to sit next to a fellow staff member who is coughing and sneezing. With most employees now set up to work from home, giving staff the option to utilise this on days they feel under the weather should help to alleviate this issue.

What do you think the office of the future will look like post pandemic?

I think it’s inevitable that the office will look different. Speaking with the market, we’re finding that most employers are expecting staff to return to the office but not for five days a week. Most seem to be heading towards a hybrid approach with two or three days in the office and the rest at home so I think we can expect offices to be slightly quieter than pre-pandemic. Oh and of course the hand sanitiser dispensers will be everywhere!

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