Last week I took part in the EY Work Reimaged Leadership Forum to give my perspective on returning to the office and the future of workplaces. As lockdown restrictions slowly start to ease across the UK and Ireland, the pandemic has fundamentally challenged the way we live, work, and engage with one another. However, it’s become very clear that there is no silver bullet solution to the complex return to work environment. People do different jobs in different ways and organisations taking a “cookie cutter” approach may need to stop and think about the realities of their workforces.
We know from our clients across all sectors that not everyone in the UK and Ireland will return to the traditional five days a week in the office. But despite the public pledges of some of the major technology companies, we also know that full-time work from home is rarely the solution either.
Current research indicates that the initial novelty of long-term working from home has started to fade and most feedback is now aligned in tracking eagerness to return to work at close to 50%. In short, the mood of the workforce is constantly reacting to the exhausting length of this pandemic environment and every business is struggling to respond accordingly.
The Case for the Workplace
Facilitating collaboration is vital when it comes to the return to work discussion. Collaboration is something we have all missed over the last few months, and I believe we need collaborative spaces that allow us to work with each other safely, comfortably but also in the more natural and less formal confines of a video call. When I consider the fantastic space that I got to experience during our forum at the EY Dublin office (where our whole panel chose to attend in person!), it’s an important reminder of the impact that the physical environment can have on the way people work – from culture, to engagement, to collaboration, to progress, and everything in between.
As more of us are starting to return to the office, Aramark’s initial focus is on creating a safe work environment for our employees and clients, by identifying and alleviating any potential concerns. Across our own offices, we have implemented our global safety solution EverSafe, a holistic approach to safety and wellbeing.
The EverSafe approach is built on four main principles: total wellbeing, operational impact, frictionless experience and collaboration. Given the changing nature of the pandemic, we need to be able to mobilise, remobilise and demobilise in line with public health guidelines, while equally maintaining a high level of trust with everyone who comes through our environment.
We must look after the wellbeing of our employees as we begin to return to the office post-pandemic. Employee wellbeing is about more than physical health, but also about emotional support with the Covid pandemic predicted to be the cause of the largest mental health epidemic of our time.
At Aramark, we have the fortune of a well-established Wellbeing department with a strong people-first ethos. Each year, we run a very successful mental health campaign called Take 15 which is an ongoing initiative that encourages our staff, clients, and customers, across all sites in the UK and Ireland, to TAKE 15 minutes away from their work, study or home environment to unwind and recover from stress. When working from home the lines between work life and homelife can become blurred. While working policies and practices can help set useful thresholds, we understand the importance of behaviour and culture in setting the tone of taking breaks and allowing ourselves to reset.
Finally, as I discussed, a feedback loop to our people has been critical to ensure we are as supportive as can be.
We’ve run two employee surveys during the pandemic, one in earlier lockdown and a second in December. This survey was a useful tool for understanding how employees are affected by the pandemic and what we can do, as an employer, to support them even more. As always, it’s important to listen to your employees, their needs and wants, particularly now as we deal with the challenge and opportunity that is returning to the office post-pandemic.
As the webinar panel concluded, there is no single solution for the post-pandemic office. Whether your organisation favours full return to office or a blended solution, there is a significant role for HR and leadership teams to ensure your organisation has the frameworks, tools, and practices to deliver on that employee, customer, and client promise.