2020 has been a tumultuous year as the COVID-19 outbreak forced businesses both large and small to adopt social distancing protocols and work from home policies in a matter of weeks. 

The future of the office has become an open question post-COVID, and it’s an ongoing debate, but there is little doubt that remote working will remain a force. However, the office cannot be forgotten; physical proximity will always be crucial to forging relationships – a critical element of business.

As South Africa emerges from an unprecedented lockdown, companies are scrambling to re-open while placing the health and safety of employees high on their list of priorities. 

In this article, we’ll take a look at the strong case for physical office space, why it’s good for business and how companies can get their teams back to work while maintaining high levels of hygiene, safety and employee satisfaction.

Changes in the world of work

In the wake of the recent pandemic, there has been a tremendous amount of speculation in the media about a revolution in the way we work and live. 

The prospect of businesses switching to a permanent work-from-home set up has managers and executives debating the merits of the new normal – and this has significant implications for the commercial property market. 

Remote working policies may be effective as emergency measures during a disease outbreak but there are several strong reasons why companies should consider reopening their physical premises.

Is working from home really that great?

Amid the panic that accompanied the coronavirus outbreak earlier this year, remote working offered some relief to many employees as they looked forward to traffic-free mornings and the ability to work productively from the safety of their homes. 

Even before the pandemic, some productivity experts had suggested that the remote working model would become mainstream in the coming decade. These same pundits are optimistic that the international health emergency has provided an opportunity for businesses to test out a totally new way of working.

Several months later, following a global work-from-home experiment of huge proportions, the results seem to be mixed at best.

  • While some employees have reported higher productivity levels and less stress as a result of working from home, others are lamenting the lack of collaboration and the business-first work environment which allows them to focus and complete the tasks without distraction.
  • The challenges of working from home include having to share space with kids and family members who aren’t usually present during productive hours, the absence of colleagues and management who can be turned to for advice and assistance, and the large number of distractions present in every home. 
  • In addition, many homes are not adequately set up for the demands of professional life. This is especially true of high focus occupations like finance and IT where a certain amount of structure and space is necessary in order for team members to produce the best work.

As a business owner, you are probably keenly aware of these challenges already, having managed your team over the past few tumultuous months. For many in the private sector, the question today is: how do we reopen while maintaining responsible health and safety standards?

Returning to work with safety for all

There’s no doubt that reopening the office is essential in the post-lockdown economy as working from home every day for months on end isn’t a wholly sustainable model for employees from a mental health perspective. But, before you resume normal activities there’s a strong need to strategise and communicate openly with your team about issues like work from home arrangements and health and safety procedures at your physical premises.

  • The health and well-being of both management and employees are of paramount importance. The last thing any business wants to do is rush to reopen before the necessary safety measures have been implemented and discussed with all users of the premises.
  • Two important conversations you’ll want to have over the next while will be with your staff and with an occupational safety consultant who can guide you as to the best practices that should be implemented to reduce the risk of the coronavirus cluster formation at your workplace.
  • Some commercial buildings have already taken significant steps to reduce the risk of infection, including rearranging office layouts, using plastic shielding in common areas and reception and providing masks and hand sanitizer to both tenants and building visitors.

Before you require your staff to return to work you’ll need to meet with them – possibly remotely – and outline exactly what your requirements will be in terms of attendance and what steps you plan to take to ensure their safety. 

These discussions should take the form of a dialogue rather than a briefing as it’s essential to secure the cooperation and buy-in of your team before you attempt to re-open.

Some employees may have gotten used to the daily routine of working from home while others may be keen to return to the structured environment of the physical office premises, at least for a few days each week.

By giving your team a choice in terms of how many days they’ll need to spend at the office per week you encourage those who want to come back to do so of their own initiative – and this may encourage more reluctant workers to follow suit.

Managing change in the coronavirus era

The realities of a lockdown spanning several months has forced many managers and business owners to make significant changes to their physical premises already.

  • Many companies have negotiated with their landlords to reduce the physical size of their office space while others are making do with a smaller on-site skeleton staff and allowing the bulk of their workers to telecommute.
  • Measures like these could allow you to keep costs at a minimum while maintaining your essential physical premises where teams can collaborate and management can monitor the status of key projects and important deliverables. 

If you’re currently revising your business strategy and would like to secure the ideal amount of office space to meet your current and future business needs, we’d love to assist. Contact our team of Cape Town area specialists today.