Reopening responsibly: Are you ready to go back to a very different office?

uae reopens, coronavirus, covid19

Dubai - Face masks, temperature checks, social distancing have come to define this return to work.


Anamika Chatterjee

Published: Sat 30 May 2020, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Sun 31 May 2020, 4:31 PM

It has been rather long two months for those working from home. Seeing the world around them change and terms like 'webinars' and 'Zoom meetings' becoming more important than ever in corporate lexicon, many have had to adapt to this new normal. As many offices opened this week, it made way for more readjustments.
No longer is the office a space where you punch in and punch out, have meetings and work on shared desks. Face masks, temperature checks, social distancing have come to define this return to work.
Falcon 9, a cloud consultation and professional services company, reopened its offices this week. Its founder Mouteih Chaghlil says that while his employees have been happy to return to work - also seeing it as a semblance of life returning to 'normal' - the first week has been hard adapting to the changes at the workplace and the need to remain cautious at all times.
The company ticked the necessary boxes - deep cleaning the premises and offering face masks to employees. But the resumption with limited capacity also meant dividing the workforce into four groups, each of which needs to come to office once a week.

Happy faces were also spotted by Parvez Rupani, managing director of Skyline Group of Companies, that opened its offices this week. While the company continues to observe the social distancing norms in their offices, the call centre staff and the back-end operation team will continue to work from home. The 'new normal' also presents new challenges - chief among them being who works from office and who works from home, what must the 'new office' look like.

Work from office or home?
The question remains who, apart from age and vulnerability criteria, can return to work. The nature of the business, says Chaghlil, is crucial to this. "We are more into consultancy, which means team collaborations and alignment is crucial for us. It becomes harder when you work remotely, simply because you cannot just say 'Hey, let's come and discuss this'.

"Even if you have Zoom meetings, you are never sure whether you have some's full attention. People can always be muted or they may be on a call, but just not concentrating fully," he says.

"I think it will be a 70:30 ratio, where 70 per cent people may continue to work from home and 30 per cent will go to work. Either way, we have reached a point where we have to think outside the punch in-punch out culture."
Reorganising office layout

Even with offices reopening, social distancing remains non-negotiable. At Falcon 9 offices, for instance, every desk is marked with clear instructions on where one is or isn't supposed to sit. Chairs and desks have been marked for seating to comply with social distancing norms. "While we did split the teams, within those teams, they do tend to feel separated."

Does it mean an open office will be a thing of the past? While reams have been written about its infeasibility, Claire Donnelly, business growth and HR strategist, thinks otherwise. "Sure, desk sharing cannot happen. But an open office also ensures there is movement. Also, if teams are divided and one group gets to work two days and the rest for another two, you may not need to alter the layouts majorly."

Even if the layouts are not drastically changed, the seating arrangement along with limited capacity means the office that was part of your routine in pre-Covid times might not seem all that familiar, after all.

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