Allia’s Blog: Returning to the office – one size doesn’t fit all

As we start to see lockdown restrictions gradually lifted in the UK, much debate is being had about the big return to the office. It seems like a very long year ago that most of us office-workers had to leave our desks and work from home due to the Covid-19 crisis – and the experience has altered our lives and dominated our news feeds ever since. How can someone juggle home-working with childcare? Or work professionally for a full day when you’re sitting on your bed?

Over the course of the pandemic, escalating mental health issues have been recorded, which continue to grow, threatening to cause a profound and long-lasting effect1. For many, feelings of anxiety or depression have been caused or exacerbated by lockdown isolation, not being able to socialise with family and friends, and lack of contact with the outside world. And so, on paper, it would make sense that we would all relish the thought of returning to ‘normal’ life (whatever that might be!). But while many of us can’t wait to get back to our desks, socialising with colleagues and reigniting team spirit through face-to-face meetings – for some, the prospect of returning to work may not feel that easy.

Our friend Thor from The Helpful Clinic talks about social atrophy2 – how our social stamina has become de-conditioned from lack of use. So, all sorts of ‘normal’ things like starting to socialise with lots of people, or even just hearing more noise when out and about on the high street again, can cause fatigue or stress. Thor advises that we take things slowly, take gradual steps, and understand that going gently with yourself is the best approach. We arranged for Thor to hold some workshops recently for our friends and tenants across our Future Business Centres; practical training to understand feelings, manage anxiety and stress and learn to become more self-supporting. This is more important than ever before in the current climate, and we want to help our business community come back stronger.

We’re all different. At Allia, we’ve discussed the importance of understanding this so that we can provide empathy and support for our teams as lockdown is lifted, and beyond. Not everyone is in the same boat, and we all have different perspectives, home lives and situations. Some of our team are chomping at the bit to get back to the office 5 days a week, whereas others are still worried about the virus itself, or just being around people again after so long. While we’ve always supported flexible working, we’re actively encouraging it now, to enable better work-life balance for all, and allow a more gradual re-entry into the workplace. And through initiatives we’ve adopted over the years like members of staff training as mental health first aiders, we hope these provide our team with valuable resources and a supportive culture, as restrictions are relaxed, and challenges may be faced.

We, like many of the tenant companies at our Future Business Centre, are opting for ‘blended working’ going forward, where teams will work most of their week at the office, and some people can choose to work some of their time from home – as we believe this allows the most flexibility. Using our time in the office effectively to collaborate with our team, network with colleagues and meet our friends around the centre, but then have the choice to work from home occasionally, allowing other teams to use the office space safely.

This past year has really made us value our office as a place to work away from the isolation of home, to be part of a team, where we can collaborate and enjoy the wider business community, and our tenants tell us the same.

Additionally, from conversations we’ve had with new businesses who’ve moved into our centres recently – we’ve learnt that the Covid crisis has radically shifted the way a lot of us have worked, and that one size doesn’t fit all anymore. You might be looking for a more flexible workplace solution – or not even know what that is! We understand – as we’ve been supporting small businesses to grow and scale for years. Talk to us and we’ll see what we can do. We offer a supportive business environment with networking and a real sense of community – so that you can find the right way forward as we emerge from lockdown, and we all navigate the challenges along the way.