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18 February 2021 | by Ann Clarke
People are back in their offices, although not every day, and they look a little different too – no longer a sea of desks. A hybrid style of work is prevalent with many people working at home when they need to concentrate and coming into work for collaboration, interaction, social buzz and all the things we missed so much last year.
Monday morning and no blues . The early morning commute is just a memory as I cross the landing to the spare bedroom – where I have a desk, task chair and a couple of ergonomic accessories all set up. When lockdown began in 2020, Claremont completed a risk assessment for all home workers which means I now have a comfortable and well equipped space. It has also helped to create effective boundaries between my home and work life.
Claremont made great efforts to keep in touch with everyone during lockdown and this has continued even though we’re now back in the office for at least 40% of the time. I’ve been happy to respond to the staff surveys during each of the lockdowns and am glad they’re still a regular occurrence. They gave really valuable feedback, particularly in identifying how and where people would want to work in the long term. Many of the aspects that have been introduced during 2021 are a direct result of the survey feedback.
Today I have a Microsoft Teams call with colleagues in our regional offices. Historically, our regional offices had felt they were the ‘poor relation’ but the shared experiences of lockdown put an end to that – it broke down silos and improved communication between us all.
We do still have a high proportion of virtual meetings, and this has definitely saved time and money for the company, and time and stress for me too. Once I would have attended a weekly meeting in person, but now I attend at least half virtually.
I take the dog for a quick walk at lunchtime – a positive activity that became habit during lockdown. It gives me a good break from the screen and a blast of fresh air to re-energise and refresh.
Now that we’re back in the office, one of the biggest challenges is how to ensure the same experience when some people dial into a meeting and others are in the same room. The company has worked hard to improve this experience with new collaboration technology. It means we can collaborate no matter where we are and work together on a shared interactive canvas. This might have seemed an expensive investment in the past but the value has been immeasurable given the need for us to work with clients, sub-contractors and suppliers – even if we haven’t been able to see them face to face.
The company has refurbished our workspace – it’s a bit smaller than before but has so many features. I love coming here, even if it only two days a week.
As part of the office refurbishment we achieved Fitwel certification, this showed our people that we were taking our people’s health and wellbeing seriously. Hygiene factors were a massive factor in 2020/21 for obvious reasons and many of the changes such as automatic and open door policies, gesture control and other ‘hands free’ solutions, are part of our lives now.
I know when I do go to the office, all the brilliant basics I need will be there and it will be a positive and seamless experience. We have a workplace booking system via an app and I can book the facilities I need before I travel to the office. Today I have booked a parking space, a desk for an hour this morning and a meeting room for four people so I can meet with our designers to brainstorm a client proposal. The room has excellent presentation facilities and large scribble boards so we can get our ideas down quickly. Unexpectedly I have a quick VC call with a supplier and so I don’t disturb everyone else, I use a small private pod that is available for quick drop in sessions or for focus and concentrated work.
Later on I’ll use the semi-private booths in our café space to watch the world go by or catch up with colleagues I haven’t seen for a couple of weeks. That’s one of the best experiences of the day – helped by an excellent coffee machine.
All of the services we need whilst we are working from home have been grouped together in the office – so I can use our reprographic team to collate the client proposal and arrange for some professional printing. Our IT helpdesk will also install some new software and provide some familiarisation so I can use it properly. We’ll schedule in another half hour when I come back to the office next week to make sure I’m totally up to speed
Back at home again and I’m preparing to visit a client this afternoon to take a brief, I’ve checked their requirements to make sure we understand the visitor protocols beforehand. I’m travelling with a colleague and will use the time in the car to discuss the project in detail. It is still quite a novelty to visit client premises, but taking the brief is an important part of developing a project and face-to-face interactions really help with the more intuitive elements of conversation. After today we will be running some virtual workshops with their steering group as this allows us to gather crucial feedback from a larger and more dispersed cohort.
I’m in the office today for a training session. It’s a joy to revert back to face to face training sessions with workshops and breakout sessions with colleagues as the online experience of lockdown just wasn’t the same. It will be more memorable.
All the technology in our workplace has been updated so it’s intuitive to use by everyone. We have a programme of events, some internal and some with local businesses and community projects to bring a new perspective to the office and create an interesting destination. We have a programme of events, next month a local art gallery will be hosting a pop up exhibition, and later in the Spring, we’ll be having our first barbecue of the season in the garden. We have found that these events really help us maintain our culture and people make a real effort to attend.
An area of our meeting suite has also been repurposed. When we first returned to the office we realised how underutilised it was so refurbished it to suit the team’s new needs – namely providing the social spaces and wellbeing facilities requested in our staff surveys. Some of that space has been converted it into a wellbeing suite, with a small gym and studio space for exercise classes, complete with changing facilities and showers which have helped to make cycling to work popular too. We’ve included a sanctuary space too, no tech and simply there to provide a relaxing and tranquil ambience if you just need a moment of calm. We’ve partnered with a panel of experts providing a wide variety of wellbeing sessions. some face to face and some virtual. I joined a Pilates session today and have booked again for next week. This is an added benefit of planning my diary and another great reason to come and enjoy being with my work family.
Today is a day off for me as I’m part of the company’s four day week pilot. Many companies are looking at this option and we’re trialling it for three months and the early feedback is really positive. Our workload is project dependent and so can be very lumpy, so we manage our own workloads and that empowerment and trust is a powerful motivator. It seems one positive outcome from COVID is a greater appreciation of not just work life balance but work and life integration.
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