Business Leaders Must Listen to Staff Concerns Over Office Return

Keith Anderson, Chief Executive, Vialex

As offices around the country begin to reopen, staff concerns must be listened to by employers, according to Keith Anderson, chief executive of Edinburgh-based legal services firm Vialex.

With Covid restrictions easing in tandem with the success of the vaccination rollout, many businesses are encouraging their employees to return to the workplace rather than continue to be based at home.

While such a scenario will suit some, it may not sit well with others and Mr Anderson believes business leaders must be receptive to feedback on the change in pattern.

“The responsibility to create a safe environment within the office rests with those who lead the business, and it is incumbent upon them to listen to the concerns of their staff,” he said.

“I think there is a misplaced view that an office worker can be just as effective wherever he or she works. What we have learned in the last 18 months is that home working has worked for some and not for others, especially younger members of the team who have missed out on the opportunities to learn by simply being in the company of their senior colleagues. 

“Those younger people have also been starved of general interaction with their peer group, whether within the business in which they work or outside the workplace over lunch or even in a bar!

“There may also be a misconception amongst our lawmakers (perhaps based on their own work experience, and who can blame them?) that work is not fun and not good for your mental health and general wellbeing.  If that is indeed what they think, it could not be further from the truth.

“The adage ‘do you work to live or live to work’ may pigeonhole many, but for most work is an important part of our lives and job satisfaction a lasting contributor to good mental health, self-esteem, and general wellbeing, together with leisure time.

“Now, if business leaders are in a quandary over a return to the office or not, then spare a thought for those employees who have no, or little, control over what may be expected of them.  For many, returning to the workplace will be a cause for anxiety and of course it’s not just the place of work but the challenges of travelling to and from there.

“Business leaders must take the initiative but guard against imposing unnecessary prescriptive guidelines from on high, and instead seek to achieve arrangements, and work patterns, in a collaborative way to achieve the best outcome for, and from, everyone in the organisation.”

Vialex is to adopt a flexible approach to office working in the months ahead, Mr Anderson keen to ensure job satisfaction for his staff while prioritising their mental health.

“We have undertaken a detailed risk assessment of our offices which we will shortly share with colleagues for their input.  It will be a discussion document which will be updated from time to time to reflect current concerns,” he said.

“While these relate most obviously to Covid-19 at this time, there will be other issues which will need to be addressed in the future and uppermost must be the health and wellbeing of colleagues, including our clients.

“Ours will be a so-called hybrid model, as we know that some of our people will work best from home, most of the time, and others will work best in the office, most of the time.  We will leave it to them to determine which is best for them, confident that client service will not be compromised because we have the technology to ensure that will be the case.

“A focus on mental health issues remains foremost in all our deliberations as we prepare for a return to the office. What is clear is that if the office ever was just a place that staff travelled to every day to perform their duties, that is now no longer the case. 

“Instead, I envisage our office as being a place where colleagues are encouraged to meet for the purpose of sharing ideas and for collaboration generally. How many initiatives have arisen, or problems been identified and solved, by chance conversation in the workplace?

“I count myself as one of those who has enjoyed working from home and has not missed the daily commute; however, I want to see my colleagues again and to meet with clients in a business and social context. I have no doubt that video conferencing is here to stay and that’s great, but we do need to meet in person.”

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