A return to office working is now in sight for many of us, but the ways in which we work and collaborate have inevitably changed permanently. Companies will face some unique challenges of returning to the office. For some, an entire year of working from home has prompted a move away from the city to quieter areas without the hustle and bustle of the daily commute to and from the office. Naturally there is a resistance for some to return to the office at all, especially if they feel happier or more productive working remotely. If the past year has taught businesses anything, its that there is not a one-size fits all working solution that suits every employee. Flexibility is king.

Challenges of Returning to the Office

Bringing employees back into the office is going to bring about some unique challenges for businesses. Not only must they ensure that workplaces meet certain levels of hygiene and safety levels, but also create an environment that serves the needs of those who have become so accustomed and comfortable working from home.

1.Making employees actually want to return to their desks

According to Consultancy UK 57% of workers polled do not actually want to return to ‘normal’ from a working standpoint. Surveys revealed that people had actually realised how poor their work-life balance was before Covid-19, with 52% stating they enjoyed a better balance during lockdown (2000 participants). Of course, these numbers will vary depending on peoples actual job responsibilities, existing company culture and office environment and commute time.

For some, working from home is just more convenient, while others relish in the lone-wolf environment where they can focus on their work without external distractions within the office environment. Certain jobs benefit more from this style of working than others; with data driven roles in accounting, finance etc. benefiting from the lack of office distraction.

2. Making the office safe

In the UK, guidelines have been in place for employers including minimising unnecessary visits to the office, social distancing, frequent cleaning of desks and communal areas, and extra hand washing and sanitizing facilities. Added barriers and screens between desks and staggering start/break/end times also helped curb the spread of the virus. With some now approaching an entire year of working exclusively from home, ensuring that employees feel safe coming back to the office will be a significant challenge. Employees may come to expect an ongoing commitment to a safe and clean working environment, especially those who are vulnerable to illness.

3. Allowing for flexible working arrangements

A complete return to full-time office working may not be viable or desirable for many people; especially for those who have moved further away, or have other responsibilities at home. Half of office based staff in five nations surveyed by the Guardian, have said they hope to work home for about 2 days a week in the future. Businesses will have to adapt to meet the current requirements and expectations of their employees if they expect to hold on to their best and brightest.

And, if you are looking to hire new employees; a survey from jobs platform LiveCareer quizzed over 1000 professionals, finding that 62% of people would give preference to employers who offered the flexibility of remote working.

4. Adjusting the working environment to suit the way we work now

With home-working likely to be a permanent fixture for many people at least on some level, video and conference calling will continue to be a core part of day to day business interactions. Meeting virtually removes travel time to and from other offices or sites; unless its necessary to meet face-to-face, remote meetings will save everyone time, and money!

Open plan offices have essentially become the norm across most industries, with up to 75% of the workforce operating in open plan spaces prior to Lockdown-1. With video calling sure to become a regular occurrence on a day-to-day basis, employees may need to consider re-designing their office layout to allow for added privacy for calls. Or, consider some of the other possible solutions that could save time and money.

Potential Solutions for the Office

Some possible acoustic solutions for companies who are ready to embrace the new normal of flexible working, where workers operate both in and out of the office. Embracing this hybrid-style of working will likely require at least some re-design considerations within the office environment.

Acoustic Pods & Booths

Various acoustic manufacturers have developed and offer modular pods and booths which can be used to add private meeting spaces for calls or quiet working. Acoustic pods create a small space in which people can meet, work and collaborate, or use them as virtual meeting rooms with added privacy. We have seen more and more companies offering these products, and they offer a quick and effective solution. Also available are small, wall mounted acoustic phone booths which can be used for quick calls, helping remove extra noise from the office.

Acoustic Desk Screens

Traditional desk screens are often made from hard plastic or MDF, meaning they reflect sound back into the space. Upgrading to acoustic desk screens can add extra sound absorption to the office, while also providing physical division between working stations. Autex Vicinity desk screens are elegant, lightweight, 100% polyester screens designed to be fixed non-destructively to any desk, available in a variety of shapes, sizes and colours. With added sound absorption around desks, phone calls and other office noise can be more effectively managed.

Adapt and Embrace

For companies of all sizes, rediscovering and learning what works best for them will be a significant challenge. As mentioned, there’s no one size fits all approach. But if there’s anything we’ve learned over the last year, its that we are more adaptable than we realise!