From Our What'sUp? Workshop 07 July 2021 

The last 15 months have been one major change with a continuous number of more minor ones along the way, as far as working practices are concerned. 
 
With the promise of a return to something a little closer to normality (reach for the dictionary to find out what this week’s definition of “normality” is) should we be aiming to go back to our past behaviours, or continue with what we’ve become used to, or adopting new ones, or maybe a combination? 
 
Our workshop panel discussed some of the things that maybe we should take into account: 
Lunchtimes 
 
Pre-pandemic, many of us who had deskbound jobs would grab a bite to eat at the desk and carry on working, or playing, on the computer. This was undoubtedly bad for being able to disconnect from work, but also not great for hygiene. As I always state in the Workshop: “It’s your keyboard and I don’t have to clean it for you”, but in practice, we should be attempting to maintain some level of hygiene before handling food. This is a practice that really should be stopped and employers could at least ensure there is a separate area. 
 
Our work cousins in continental Europe often actually close their businesses for lunch, so there’s no choice. 
Taking a lunch break away from work, not only provides the opportunity to take some exercise, but is shown to have creative effects on how we think (please don’t make me dig that sort of evidence out!). Some companies even go further, and if an employee is going off to do exercise, they are permitted extra time so they can shower etc and have something to eat, whilst I the knowledge that their time has also helped to improve their productivity. 
 
Working from Home 
 
This is a potentially divisive topic; the last 15 months have shown that at least some of the work can be carried out away from the office, and also that productivity isn’t necessarily reduced. Now that businesses have accommodated the infrastructure, should people be compelled to return to an office environment? 
 
Not necessarily. 
 
Some bosses like to be able to supervise their team and are more concerned about presenteeism than productivity. Whilst that approach may have its role, productivity is limited to (capability) x (number of employees) x (hours in the office). On the other hand, home working is generally limited to the employee’s availability, and with fewer distractions, it’s possible that your WFH employee is achieving more AND working longer. Much is made about the lack of creativity by individuals being isolated from each other, and there is merit in that, but creativity by social interaction doesn’t mean everyone has to be together all of the time. 
 
The other potential problem with isolated working is the opportunity to mentor less experienced workers for them to gain insight and experience. During the pandemic lockdown periods, this has presented a major problem in some areas and it’s unlikely that remote connection will satisfy that need. However when WFH is more of an option, then the smart employer will plan training and mentoring in more formally to support the junior staff. 
 
Dress Code 
 
We’ve all seen the images of people who are dressed smartly on a video meeting, only to stand up to reveal shorts and flipflops (or worse) beneath. Actually, that shows a level of forethought; they presented themselves to others in professional garb, but ensured they were comfortable in their environment. Maybe the days of having an instructed business attire are behind us and, as a number of companies had already started before the pandemic, we should decide what is appropriate and meets our employer’s clients’ expectations. 
 
So if it can’t be seen – and really can’t be seen – then why not? 
 
But no budgie smugglers – please! 
 
Smoking Breaks 
 
Too controversial to discuss! 
 
Social Distancing, PPE and Handwashing 
 
We’ve scrubbed, hidden behind masks and crossed the street to avoid other people for the last 15 months. Going back into a workplace with other people in potentially close proximity could be daunting, but can we continue to adopt some of the things we’ve done? 
 
We know that often in an office environment, someone comes in with an illness, which then flies round all of the staff. Often a member of staff deems themselves to not be ill enough to not work. Well now, where we’ve demonstrated that some jobs can be done remotely, that member of staff could work from home whilst they’re not well enough to come in, but fit enough to do work, which means employers get some productivity out of them, and they feel less miserable and a failure for letting the side down. Obviously not all jobs can be done from home, so that needs to be taken into consideration. 
 
Handwashing and sanitising has become second nature as has avoiding sharing equipment. No reason why this shouldn’t continue, but maybe people will have developed the habit of not actually sticking their hands into their face until they’ve washed them. 
 
Some workplaces can be very congested, and space between people is tight. There are guidelines for the spacing of desks, workstations, coupled with fire regulations to allow for access requirements. This is a great time to reconsider how people are positioned in your workplace, whether it can be reorganised to not only make sure everyone is suitably spaced, but to give a better environmental feel as well. Where you can, the ventilation should be checked, and for anyone with air conditioning that hasn’t been in use for long periods, get them checked for legionella before using them! 
 
Keeping Everyone Included 
 
This is an ideal time to introduce beneficial changes because we’ve already had to experience many others, and it won’t be such a wrench. Before old, bad habits creep back in, keep employees informed and involved, let them contribute and take the chance to create a better working environment whilst change is easy. 
 
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