Prior to the pandemic, the idea of health and safety was important, but perhaps not front of mind for employees in an office. It might have cropped up once in a while when making sure to have the right kind of desk chair, and for the most part people’s needs tended to be somewhat homogenous.
Now, though, things have changed, and we are all too aware that you cannot start to focus on those ‘higher’ needs around growth and engagement until you are sure that people feel safe in the office. We also know that people are in very different places, even just in terms of the level of distance, or whether they want to shake hands. So, there has to be much more of a focus on the individual. We saw this with remote working, where some loved working from home while others were desperate to come back in. How people feel about work, and what it takes for them to feel safe, productive and engaged either in the office or at home, is increasingly varied.
At Coventry Building Society, we have, therefore, taken a team-led approach to hybrid working. We have a common framework, but individual teams determine what their arrangements look like. This puts it in the hands of the individuals to work in a way which suits them, but which also fits within the context of their team. Giving people control is incredibly important in helping them to feel safe.
Although the government requirements have largely fallen away, we have continued with practices such as having one desk per person, per day; with brilliant cleaning protocols in between. Meanwhile, our more open plan branches have temporary screens. These things are no longer a health and safety requirement, but we recognise the need to help people feel confident.
Most importantly, we are making a point of talking to colleagues around their needs, and when the right time is for these protocols to ease off. We are doing this together. Our aim is to strike the right balance between the measures we need to have in place, which fundamentally underpin health and safety, and the measures that simply give people confidence and help them feel comfortable. We recognise the value in both.
Another practical piece is support and guidance for managers. Ultimately, it’ i the manager who creates the environment an individual works in, who spots the concerns, and who needs to agree future plans and help people transition if they are feeling nervous.
We also want to ensure that our office employees feel safe to work collaboratively. This is partly to do with embracing technology, of course, but nothing can quite replace working together in person. Our approach at Coventry Building Society can be seen in particular in our newly refurbished office space, which incorporates big collaboration spaces, where people can come together while still maintaining distancing if this is important to them, as well as individual Zoom pods, for example.
If you have the chance to influence office design, think about these questions: Why would a person be in the office rather than working from home? How do we create an environment that people want to come into, with brilliant spaces that function as they need to? And before anything else, how do you make sure your people feel safe?
In all of this, there are several key things we have learned along the way. One is that you have to keep checking in with people to understand their needs and perspectives, while another is the importance of accepting that people are at different stages in the timeline. The pandemic proved that we can continue to function effectively wherever we are, and people deserve a little bit of patience.
Lucy Becque is chief people officer at Coventry Building Society