The Government’s Work from Home guidance came to an end on July 19 but few have seen a rush back to the office.
Enforced home working since March 2020 has changed the way desk-based employees think about their working days and employers have responded.
Amy Taylor, people director at PKF Francis Clark, said the firm’s experience over the past 12 months has shown it’s possible to improve job satisfaction without compromising client service.
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The firm, which last year came in as the 80th biggest firm in Devon and Cornwall as listed in the Top 150: Annual Business Guide employs around 600 staff.
She said: “The pandemic has accelerated changes in the world of work and demonstrated that technology enables accountants and other professionals to work very effectively from home. Many people have also reported less stress and better work-life balance without the daily commute.
“We quickly recognised that giving people more flexibility over where, how and when they work will be increasingly important for professional services firms as we strive to recruit and retain the best talent. A clear majority of our people told us they would prefer a combination of home and office working.
“We also believe performance should be measured based on output, rather than face time spent in the office or online.”
Commercial property experts say that big firms are re-evaluating the amount of office space they need to accommodate hybrid working, expecting less staff in the office at any one time.
And they are looking for modern airy buildings that can allow staff to socially distance while being a welcoming environment to entice them from the kitchen table.
Tim Western, director of business space at JLL in Exeter said that staff are unlikely to return to their offices full-time.
And there will definitely be a reduction in workspace needs as a result: “We are saying for tenants to plan for no more than 45% of the workforce to be in at any one time, pre-pandemic it was around 60-80%.”
How are the region’s biggest employers approaching the new normal?
PKF Francis Clark
Amy Taylor, people director at PKF Francis Clark
The business advisory firm welcomed staff back for their first week back in the office by giving them all the Friday off.
It has offices in Cornwall, Devon, Wiltshire, Dorset and Bristol.
Clients were forewarned of the wholesale day off given in recognition of the hard work staff had put in to adapt so far during the pandemic.
And staff are encouraged to set clear boundaries between work and home life.
Amy said: “We expect that most people will spend a proportion of their time in the office in future, not least because social interaction is essential to us all.
“While we’ve been able to replicate some of those informal interactions through online social activities and things like virtual coffee breaks on Teams, our culture and team cohesion are vitally important, so we still need to meet face-to-face sometimes to get to know each other better and enjoy each other’s company.”
Other reasons for attending the office include face-to-face client meetings, reviewing materials together and tasks that call for collaboration, problem solving and group discussion.
“Everyone has learned over the past year that there are advantages and disadvantages of both office and home working,” said Amy. “We believe a hybrid approach will enable us to build on the advantages and minimise the disadvantages. As life returns to normal, finding the right balance between home and office working will be key to making our work lives more fulfilling and rewarding.”
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Riverford Organic Farmers
Charlotte Tickle, People and Culture Director at Riverford Organic Farmers
The employee owned veg-box firm employs around 700 people at its HQ in Staverton near Totnes and sister sites across the UK and farm in France.
The firm saw record sales during the first stages of the pandemic with a surge in home delivery orders while having to manage a remote working team.
Charlotte Tickle, People and Culture Director said: “In terms of the return to the office, we will not be going back to where we were. The world of work has changed fundamentally over the last 18 months and virtual working has worked well for us and continues to work well for many areas of the business, however you do lose out in some areas, such as collaboration.
“We are trying to create the best of both with our future ways of working, so for most desk based co-owners there will be choice around where to work and when. This is based on trust that the individual chooses the location that’s right for the work they need to do. This will mean a hybrid approach going forward, with no set days either way. This is quite a change from where we were, and we acknowledge that we need to get better as a business on measuring output in this new world, and holding to account in a virtual world.”
As for those workers who have to be based on site, Charlotte said that COVID safety measures will remain in place, including social distancing, the use of Perspex screens, regular Covid testing and a limit on the number of co-owners coming into the office until later in the year.”
She said: “This feels sensible given the current situation and gives more time for some of our younger co-owners to get their second vaccinations. It also protects the business by maintaining social distancing and reducing the number of pings and co-owners needing to self-isolate, as this has been a challenge for us.”
Livewest, the South West’s biggest housing provider has introduced a hybrid working model for staff
(Image: S.Ghani Photography.com)
The largest housing association in the South West now has the majority of office-based colleagues splitting their working weeks between home and the office.
In line with the revised Government guidance, face masks are optional in its three offices – Weston-super-Mare, Exeter and Tolvaddon – but colleagues are being encouraged to respect personal choice over face masks, and respect others when it comes to social distance.
LiveWest, which owns almost 38,000 homes across the South West, will also continue the use of temperature checks, and regular cleaning of the workspaces, and expect colleagues to have at least two lateral flow tests each week.
Anna Lawrence, Director of People for LiveWest, said: “The safety of our colleagues and customers is our number one priority and we have taken a number of steps to ensure that our office spaces are safe in line with government guidance.
“We want our staff to feel excited about returning to the offices, and recognise that a blend of home and office working is the way forward.
“We also recognise that some people may have concerns and about the relaxing of the rules, so we will work with all colleagues to ensure that as and when they come back to our offices, they feel safe, supported and happy.”
The parent company of South West Water and Bristol Water employs around 4,800 staff, classed as key workers during the pandemic.
A spokesman for Pennon said: “The vast majority of our colleagues are based across our many treatment works, depots, laboratories and on our networks, and we have taken measures to deliver Covid-safe working environments for them. Our colleagues based in offices have worked from home throughout and continue to do so where possible.
“We continue to follow all government guidance, and are supporting those who want, or need, to be in our office for now.
“We will consider our next steps in line with the government’s roadmap and will work with our colleagues to assess all the options for continuing to deliver the best possible service to our customers.”
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Tell us – how do you prefer to work and what protocols are in place in your office? Let us know in the comments section below