Many leaders want to increase the number of person/days of office work happening in their agency.

Companies have a legal requirement to ensure the health and safety of their staff and customers, and a moral requirement to help reduce the spread of a dangerous virus. But at the same time, many leaders and teams have been feeling the strain of 100% remote work, and are seeking a better balance.

The CARE acronym

The CARE acronym helps us understand what is needed to safely and effectively return to office work as a team:

  • Confidence: Simply ordering people to return to the office, or guilt-tripping/pressuring or whatever, will backfire. People will resist or leave. The only way that will work for you in the long term is to genuinely build up people's confidence that you understand the issues, that you care, that it is safe to work in the office, and that it is worthwhile.
  • Action: There is no point just pretending everything is okay, or in 'safety theatre' that doesn't actually protect you all. For example, many offices make do with asking everyone to use hand gel on their way in. That's no use against an airborne respiratory virus. Therefore you need to understand what measures will actually be useful and actually implement the right mix of those for your situation.
  • Review: It's an evolving situation and new information and research is being published all the time. Keep up to date with expert advice and update your plans. That may include varying your approach based on the prevalence of cases in your area. Also, keep checking in with the team.
  • Empathy: Approach the whole process by seeking to understand people's thoughts, cares and worries. Involve the team in designing the approach.

Understanding the risks

Huge progress has been made in understanding the virus and developing vaccines and other medical interventions to protect us. But there are still risks that it is important to understand to develop a safe workplace.

  • It is now known that the virus that causes Covid-19, known as SARS-Cov-2, is mainly spread via airborne transmission. This means viral particles float freely in the air like smoke, rather than only being transmitted directly by a cough or sneeze, or via touch. You can catch Covid from someone just by both of you having breathed in the same room within an hour or so of each other.
  • Fully-vaccinated people can still catch and transmit the virus, but they may be protected from it making them ill with Covid-19. They are very likely to be protected from a severe illness requiring hospitalisation. But the fact they can still catch and transmit the virus, and could still get ill, is key.
  • It's not just the immediate illness from Covid-19 that is a concern. Research is finding that the virus can cause significant long-term organ damage, even in people who only had very mild illness. This is a virus to avoid getting.
  • Leaders will also have to deal with the risks presented by disinformation around the pandemic. A lot of time and money has gone into spreading false information via social networks to discredit vaccines, health protection measures such as masks, or even the threat from the virus at all. That means leaders, in seeking to put in place sensible safety precautions, may face resistance or arguments from some team members or clients. Leaders may even find it difficult to know what to believe themselves.

Our service, Agency Radar, provides regular updates on the situation and what that means for agency leaders to help you identify and manage the risks.

Measures to consider

The right approach for your agency will be some blend of the possible measures below, tailored to your situation.

You can vary the measures you put in place based on published data about the prevalence of Covid cases in your local area. As case numbers fall to low numbers per 100,000 you can relax measures a little, and as they increase you can add measures.

Making the office safer

Here are some of the key steps you can take in your workplace...