Back in the workplace breeds energy, employee engagement and accelerates learning – 10 thoughts to make being back in the office brilliant

Employee Engagement

Eight weeks ago the spottydog team took our first steps to get back into our workplace, working on a rota so everyone could safely be in the office for at least two days each week and improve employee engagement.

We made this move not because we didn’t trust the team to work remotely, but because we’re a team that works best when we collaborate and our culture is one of the strongest reasons why people are attracted being part of the spottydog team.

Concerns around mental health and wellbeing were also high on our agenda.  Overnight we went from working together to working apart – new habits had begun to be formed and we needed to evolve the process with care to help take the team on the journey back to the workplace.

It’s been a hugely successful decision and we’ve harnessed the flexibility that working remotely can bring whilst keeping the team engaged.  In the last six weeks we’ve welcomed two new clients and two team members, and we’re just to start recruiting for a third new pup.

It’s given us the chance to build confidence, test the safety and social distancing steps we’ve put in place, and get used to being back in the office.  We’ve encouraged our team to adapt their commute to minimise public transport use and vary their start and finish patterns to avoid busy times.  We’ve committed to maintaining Wednesday as a work from home day forever, so we’ll always spend a little less time commuting than we’ve experienced in the past and can organise our work accordingly.

As organisations now consider how they can operate COVID safe spaces we wanted to share how we have successfully re-engaged our team.  There won’t be a textbook solution to this challenge – every organisation is different and whilst there is lots to be gained from working flexibly, there is an awful lot that will be lost if businesses can’t bring their employeeback to the workplace willingly.

I can understand the reticence – people say they are happier not commuting, work still gets done and short-term, businesses can count the cash associated with reduced operating costs. For some industries, a switch to remote working forever might make sense, but I’m passionate that for us it has been essential to safely get back in the workplace before we start counting the cost of what is lost.

Here’s ten thoughts to ensure a return to the office can give your business a boost in employee engagement:

#1 Take little safe steps to transition, or businesses will be in for a shock
The longer businesses continue with remote operations the bigger the challenge to readjust to full-time operations overnight.  So for mental health and wellbeing it’s really important to start a slow transition – get a return to the office back on the radar in some form and slowly give your people the chance to reacclimatise and not have a shock return factor in the Autumn, or worst still in 2021.

#2 Consider a hybrid solution – it doesn’t have to be all or nothing
Make the workplace work for your organisation and your needs.  Benefit from the advantages of remote working, but not at the expensive of having a central space to drive culture, learning and creativity.  Organise your operations to maximise efficiency and employee engagement but consider how combining remote working can be built into your operational routine in an organised way, built around the needs of a team and not varying individual preferences.

#3 Trust me… it’s not about mistrust of what people are up to
My conviction of getting people back into the workplace is not due to the issue of mistrusting what people are up to when they’re working at home.  We’re an industry that spends a lot of time on Facebook, Instagram and ‘online research’, so even if people are in the office its easy to get distracted.  It’s not about where people get a job done – if you create a culture of trust and engagement people could work on the moon and they would deliver.  But how would someone working in a galaxy far away inspire and teach a junior team member entering the profession?  How does the new team member learn from their peers and by example?

#4 Young talent loses out learning on the job
Skills development in the PR industry is still heavily driven through on the job training and so much of our informal training happens by working alongside each other and on the job coaching. This valuable aspect is lost when we work in a fragmented way and I do worry how we breed the next generation of talent if they don’t get the same learning experience that practitioners have benefited from. As a junior learnt how a workplace worked from Sara Tye, how to prepare for client meetings by seeing Ginny Paton in action, awesome new business pitches from Loretta Ahmed, strategy from Alison Clarke, the creativity of Daniel Cohen and Jackie Cooper and pretty straight up feedback from Robert Philips! I’m indebted to learning our trade by seeing how experienced practitioners tackle the everyday challenges of PR, everyday. Read here our new pup, Charlotte has jumped into the spottydog pack during lockdown.

#5 Managing people takes more time
Working remotely is awesome when you’re working on a task – you have no interruptions and you’re 100% focused on your task.  That’s fine when you only have your work to think about, but when you have the responsibility of managing a team – task setting, checking in, coaching, and staying on track with employee engagement– managing remotely can eat into your day which means managers can be left burning the midnight oil still with their own personal tasks to finish.  Need to pick a moment to have a quiet word? That’s tricky on Zoom when you don’t know what’s going on in the background or can get a sense of how a team member is feeling.

#6 Being in the same room to collaborate
PR is an industry of collaboration and creativity is a team process – who brainstorms on their own?  The best ideas come out of a shared discussion – of course this can happen online, but its not just ‘set piece brainstorms’ that need a creative process.  Everyday in PR we must find solutions to problems – issues that need to be managed, help to make a breakthrough on a project or a solve a technical problem.  In the office you can scramble 20 people to help and solve a problem in seconds, but remotely it’s hard to know if people have time to help or they even know the answer in the first place.

#7 Workplace culture is the rocket fuel that gets you through tough times
Significant data demonstrates that workplaces with a strong culture outperform those that are vanilla.  Creating shared moments is really hard when a people working in silo.  At spottydog we worked really hard to combat this and as a team we came together during lockdown not just once a week, but every single day at 3pm.  Our ‘Long Time No Tea’ 30 minute slot got everyone together for a non-work related social, with a random task, quiz or activity which has helped us create a strong sense of team.  Positive workplace culture is the rocket fuel that gets you through tough times, so it’s been our number one focus as we have worked through lockdown.  There’s no ‘i’ in team at spottydog, but we’d like to think there was always a ‘mate’.

#8 Being best placed to support positive mental health and wellbeing
Mental health was already an increasing concern prior to lockdown, but a growing number of people working in isolation could act as an even bigger catalyst to drive feelings of loneliness, despair and worry.  We’re an industry that asks people to find solutions to challenges, overcome problems and is competitive.  We all have good and bad days, but being in the workplace means its easier to share the highs and lows, and more easily spot if someone needs help.  Asking for help is one of the biggest barriers to getting support to tackle a mental health concerns, asking for help remotely maybe dangerously difficult.

#9 Do our bit to boost business
We all want the economy to get moving, and it seems one of the easiest ways we can play our part is by returning back to the businesses that serve the office communities we work from.  Restarting our offices means we can welcome back our cleaners, pop out for lunch and coffees, and shop for new workwear.  These businesses have worked hard to ensure they are COVID safe, they need us, and we need them to be successful.  We’re happy to eat out to help out, or take a taxi, or buy a frock, as long as it’s all done safely.

#10 Our energy, engagement, efficiency is at an all-time high
I hope reflecting on these considerations might give other businesses the confidence to get people back into the workplace, as long as it’s safe to do so – but our tenth reason – that the energy, employee engagement and productivity of the spottydog team is at an all time high.  So much so we’re growing our client activity and recruiting new pups, and on a Wednesday we still all get to wear our PJs!

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