A unique opportunity to change how time at work is managed

As businesses co-ordinate a welcome return to the office navigating post lockdown changes and advice as well as prioritising wellbeing and effective ways of working there are a range of challenges ahead.

In the latest Diversity Forum from The Clear Company, D&I professionals shared their experiences of working through the pandemic and their plans for returning to the office.

To demonstrate our individuality and togetherness

Successes in lockdown

Communication and wellbeing were a central strand of discussions.  Claire Jones who as non-exec Director of Clear Talents works in D&I across several sectors, highlighted changes to the top 5 adjustments requested through the online toolkit. Regular communication, adjustments to reflect increased stress, anxiety and depression, support for health conditions and clarity around plans going forward were all a consistent theme.

However the successful adjustments shared by forum attendees during the Covid lockdowns showed how much attention businesses have paid to regular communication and wellbeing initiatives including:

  • Resilience workshops to help with tips on how to maintain resilience and provide the chance to talk
  • Output based working around caring responsibilities
  • Meeting-free hours away from Zoom/Teams allowing time away from the desk and in fresh air while it’s light
  • People feeling more included through virtual communications
  • Leaders connecting virtually leading to a wider reach and deeper level conversations, checking in how our people are feeling and understanding what their people need to thrive.

Inclusion and Flexibility

Ursula Tavender, Founder and Director of Flexpo noted that one positive to take away from the situation is that it can be the opportunity of a lifetime to make workplaces more inclusive and build equity into all opportunities.  Recognising that all organisations have different workforces and needs such as emerging talent where face to face time is a key part of development and frontline workers her top tips include:

  • Treat this return like it’s a return from extended leave
  • Look at working processes at team level, what are they delivering and what will work for them
  • This allows organisations and managers to work collaboratively with individuals and personalise the experience

Getting ready

When polled 70% of the audience said their organisation had started to prepare for a return to the workplace and it was notable how much of the preparation is based around communication with and feedback from employees to support the way forward.

Jenny Allen, Head of Talent and Organisational Performance at Balfour Beatty shared how the business had learnt a lot about the importance of having conversations throughout the pandemic. However, she emphasised that in returning to the workplace it’s also important to separate temporary measures put in place for the pandemic from the guidance of what needs to happen going forward.

Recognising that face-to-face interaction is essential on many occasions Jenny’s top tips include:

  • Use feedback and focus groups to guide what happens
  • Focus on outcomes not presenteeism
  • Focus on wellbeing and resilience
  • Hold informal conversations as well as task meetings
  • Involve Leaders, their visibility is closely linked to the success and confidence of initiatives

Discussions showed consensus that virtual working has been and can continue to be successful and has a major part to play in creating inclusive workplaces however it’s important to support managers to navigate how this can work for their teams.  Again the communication of findings and plans in place were felt to be essential to the successful return of people to their workplaces.

In her closing remarks Sarah Ramsden, Managing Consultant at the Clear Company also noted the value of lockdown learning and the benefit to be gained from bringing the things that worked well to this next phase treating it as a re-set, re-engage, re-purpose.

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