With companies making significant efforts to get back to normal after they’ve dealt with the impact of COVID-19, the next step for them is to set up a plan for their employees to return to the office. But as experts say and companies confirm, this return will be a gradual one, as the evolution of the coronavirus pandemic is still unpredictable. The main focus now for both landlords and their corporate clients is to ensure a safe working environment by implementing measures and clear protocols for how everything in the office operates while managing health and safety risks for employees. BR sat down with landlords and companies and found out how they were preparing for their employees’ return to the office.
By Anda Sebesi
For the work from home approach, Mihaela Ionita, HR manager at Coca-Cola HBC Romania says that the company’s employees could already take one day per week to work from home even before the pandemic started. It is a benefit Coca-Cola HBC Romania offers to all employees whose job allows it. In addition, trends were already increasingly pointing to remote work. “The new generations are somehow promoting these ways of working and we had plans to tackle this need. The pandemic forced us to push ourselves to the point where all employees worked remotely for months. And the transition was made in one week. So, we know it is possible and we are still 100 percent functional,” she says.
In addition, the company conducted an internal survey in order to see how its employees perceived this matter after 3 months of working from home. The results were surprising: more than half of them would promote remote work as the way forward, and more than 80 percent want the flexibility of choosing their work location (2-3 days per week from home, or even one week from home and the next from the office). “Still, we know for sure that face to face interactions are still essential. They help us function better and build up team spirit and trust,” she concludes.
What are companies doing?
For Coca-Cola HBC Romania, choice and flexibility are at the core of its back-to-office strategy: each employee who has been working from home throughout the pandemic can choose whether to return to the office or not. The company still encourages working from home, and it offers the support needed for its employees to perform well at their job, regardless of the location they are doing it from. “The new rules for returning to work are designed in a way that protects workers’ health first. At Coca-Cola HBC, an entire team is working to re-design office spaces and create the safe environment in which we want our employees to work,” says Ionita of Coca-Cola HBC Romania.
According to Ionita, pandemic-proof offices are the sole option for returning to work, and a gradual increase in the number of employees coming back to the office will ensure business continuity. “All the actions we are implementing now are part of a long-term workplace planning, with hygiene and employee safety being at the heart of our strategy. Additionally, we always have in mind that all plans we are making should be quickly adaptable, due to the unpredictable context,” says Ionita.
She adds that the workplace was a familiar, well-equipped and private place for employees to carry out their professional activities. Now it can be described as a physical separation between colleagues. “The atmosphere in our offices was always very animated, and we just love face to face interactions, whether we are on a Coke break or discussing our plans. The new working patterns are very different; they require physical distance and little interactions and we assume they will linger for some time,” Ionita notes.
However, she warns that it is very difficult to estimate a date when the company’s entire workforce will return to their offices. According to her, a gradual return and shifts are the concepts at the core of Coca-Cola HBC Romania’s back-to-office strategy. “A maximum of one third of our total number of employees simultaneously in the office and organising shifts, allowing employees to have at least 2 weeks working from home, are all part of our starter pack.”