While many of us have been working remotely on and off during the pandemic, as we follow the route map out of lockdown and back to ‘normality’, the truth is that offices up and down the country will be facing a ‘new normal’ once staff return to work.
Social distancing measures such as screens, enforced distancing, mask wearing and hand sanitising are likely to be in place for some time to come, particularly as it’s expected that COVID numbers will begin to rise again as we move into autumn. Learning to live with these measures while maintaining a sociable, productive and collaborative workplace is essential to ensure things run smoothly moving forward.
So, read on for 7 ways to maintain employee collaboration and morale in a socially distanced office.
Inform & Educate About New Setups
While social distancing measures have been a part of our lives for some time now, the individual ways businesses will choose to set up their workplaces with office screens and other measures will vary from company to company and location to location. Solutions that work for offices, for example, may not suit factory buildings or retail spaces. So it’s important to keep your workforce abreast of the changes that will be made to their everyday working lives.
Change can be difficult, particularly in a familiar environment where people are used to things working in a certain way. Social distancing measures are naturally going to change people’s routines, which can cause anxiety and confusion. Investing in signage and information displays alongside other measures reduce the anxiety around a new layout and routine. Giving your staff the information they need to navigate their new working reality is more likely to lead to better working relationships and a happier workforce. People who are confident about how they can safely communicate and collaborate with others are more likely to do so.
Ensure Transparent Screens Are Installed
Some office spaces already have fabric or acoustic screens installed to break up working ‘zones’, but while these offer noise reduction and privacy, they can be a hindrance for collaborative working and communication between team members.
Transparent Perspex® acrylic and glass social distancing screen solutions offer excellent protection from illnesses such as Coronavirus and other infectious diseases by forming barriers between people. These ‘catch’ the infectious virus particles in the air which are released when someone breathes, talks or coughs, for example, minimising the risk of transmission between colleagues. These materials are smooth and therefore easy to keep clean and sanitised, whereas fabric panels are relatively difficult to sanitise, meaning they are not effective measures against virus spread.
The clear nature of these screens and dividers means that as well as offering excellent health protection for your workforce, they also promote communication and collaborative working, despite the exigent circumstances we all face as we combat the pandemic.
Create Safe Spaces for Collaborative Working
Just because social distancing measures are in place does not mean that collaborative working has to end. Yes, design changes are being implemented in offices and meeting rooms across the UK, but with the right products in place, you can maintain a sociable, friendly and collaborative environment while protecting the health and wellbeing of your staff.
Investing in low-cost measures such as desk or table divider screens means you can adapt the office furniture you already own to create a socially distanced meeting space where communication is both safe and easy.
For a more comprehensive coverage option, choosing a floor-to-ceiling ‘pod’ or cubicle offers maximum protection for your employees, giving them safe, individual working spaces from which they can easily communicate with colleagues. The clear Perspex® gives the feel of openness which many enjoy for an office but which under current measures can be a risk to the health of your workforce.
Reframe Your Expectations
Most of us are accustomed to working in a certain way, for many that involves regular collaboration; meetings, catch-ups, coffee breaks and other forms of in-person communication. In a socially distanced work environment, employers will need to help their teams shift their mentality. Suggestions include reframing expectations for how work is accomplished, changing the accepted narrative on how and where deadlines are met, and allowing team members to fulfil their obligations on their own terms. This means focusing more on results rather than process and offering your employees more flexibility.
Invest in New Communication Methods
The days of grabbing a sociable coffee and chatting through a problem, or adjourning to a nearby meeting space to hash out the details, are past us for the time being. Whether your staff are working remotely or simply limited by mandated social distancing measures, it’s no longer possible to ‘pop over’ to someone else’s desk to ask a quick question. Nor is pinging endless emails back and forth around the office an effective way to communicate long term. Therefore, the way we think about office interactions needs to change.
Before the pandemic, many businesses were beginning to invest in alternative communication methods, using ‘social media-style’ programmes to offer instant messaging, file transfers, video meeting apps and other vital tools to keep colleagues collaborating even over long distances (where international offices are involved, for example). Thinking outside the box and offering your staff new ways to communicate in a more natural and relaxed fashion is bound to improve morale and productivity.
Encourage Knowledge Sharing & Training
Training might be a trickier concept in the world of social distancing, but such measures do not make education and enrichment impossible. Rather than long, infrequent days of training or instruction, adopt the ‘microlearning’ attitude and run regular, shorter training segments following a specific skill or tool. Not only do shorter lesson periods involve less risk of virus transfer, but they are also a great way to get your staff to focus on one problem intensely for a short session.
The ‘buddy’ system can also assist with knowledge sharing during these uncertain times. Filtering down knowledge from senior team members during social distancing times can be a long and complicated process, but if each team has a ‘representative’ to trickle down the information through your workforce this is a more streamlined process. The ‘buddy’ system also has the advantage of offering support and keeping an eye on the wellbeing of your employees.
Share Corporate Updates
For some businesses, going back to an ‘in-house’ style of working no longer seems cost-effective or practical now that so many people are used to working from home. If remote working will remain on your company’s agenda for the foreseeable future, then ensuring everyone feels like a part of the working community is essential to maintain healthy working relationships moving forward.
One of the biggest disconnects people can feel when working remotely is the lack of visibility. Information (both reputable and gossip-based!) is spread easily through on-site offices where people work together, relax together, eat together and generally interact with others from outside their team (or management level) under the same roof. Remote working can leave people feeling uninformed and out of the loop.
Taking the time to set up a weekly update, whether via email, video link or live online hosting, gives employees a chance to connect with their wider working environment.
For more information on our range of social distancing solutions or to speak to a member of our expert team on setting up your workplace with social distancing measures, please get in touch on 01234 676767 or via our Contact Us page.