Employees who have spent the past 18 months working from home may have developed some bad habits that won’t be suitable for office working, or relaxed how they dress. Ian Moore looks at some of the issues that might arise and how they could be fixed.
The pandemic has meant a large proportion of the workforce has spent the past year and a half working from home. With the daily commute reduced to a short trip from one room to another, and colleague interaction now no more intimate than a video call, it’s likely your workforce has picked up a few bad practices that will not be appropriate for the office environment.
As organisations gradually welcome staff back into the workplace, employers should take action as soon as possible to address any bad habits before they spread.
The first thing to do is to accept that social etiquette and standards are likely to have slipped and to identify the full extent of the problem. For example:
- Dress code – Do your staff remember the company dress code? Perhaps they’ve only had to dress smartly from the waist up for the past 18 months and may have forgotten that trainers are not acceptable work attire. Personal hygiene might not be where it was either.
- Eye contact – Can your staff still maintain eye contact given they’ve been staring at a webcam for the past 18 months? Some may have grown used to holding conversations while looking at other apps and files – will that be acceptable in face-to-face meetings?
- Use of equipment, desk and office facilities – When you’re working at home, it doesn’t matter if the desk is dirty or your lunch smells, but it will in the office.
- Lack of focus – We’ve learned to work through daily distractions from the doorbell ringing to background noise from children and pets. Will some staff find it difficult to focus in a quiet office?
- Physical interaction – It’s likely your staff will be excited to see each other but the levels of comfort around physical contact will vary. How does one avoid a hugger when they’d prefer to keep to the 2m rule?
- Slips in working standards – Without the commute, people may have worked different hours or become a little lazy about following certain company policies.
Another cause of problems could be anxiety about the return. Think about what sort of environment your employees have been working in and how this will affect their transition back into the office.
Once you’ve identified how behaviours have changed during the pandemic, assess if any are positive. Working from home is not a new concept – some companies have allowed it for years because of the efficiencies it can drive in communication, productivity, wellbeing and creativity. There may be some positive behaviours that have come out of home working that you should seek to maintain and perhaps build upon.
Working from home
One example of this could be to keep certain meetings as video calls as they can take place in half the time and avoid unconstructive debate. This could also apply to certain client meetings, enabling you to reduce travel time and expenses.
Once you know what needs to change, don’t waste a minute in communicating it. Ask the management team to ensure that everyone is clear of what is required and has time to adjust. In the case of dress code, some of your staff might need to get new clothes before they return to the office so give them time to do so. Be mindful that while some people will be desperate to dress smartly again, others will find it too much of a change. Finding a happy medium might be a welcomed change of policy.
You should also revise and reissue your code of conduct to all employees. To ensure it is read, speak to your internal communications team or department heads about reinforcing rules with further communication.
At team level, the line manager-subordinate relationship might need realigning too. After a year of video calls in which employees have grown used to seeing their colleagues in their own homes, the dynamic might have changed. Encourage line managers to take steps to reassert their authority within their teams as soon as they can but in a way that continues to drive collaboration.
Also make it clear to all what is deemed unacceptable behaviour and that it will not be tolerated. Two examples of this could be the use of headphones in the office, or using a laptop during meetings. Just as many meetings start with a health and safety briefing, you can also start the meeting to clarify what equipment is welcomed and whether or not mobiles should be on silent.
It’s likely that working from home has created some bad habits among your workforce and by dealing with them promptly, you can ensure the return to the office is smooth and successful.