July 21, 2020 • Workplace5 min read

Back to the office: a chat with the City Pantry People Team

Our People Associate Rosie talks to us about City Pantry's back-to-office plan and gives some advice to other companies looking to re-open their workspaces.

During March 2020, like many other companies, the whole City Pantry team left the office to work from home full time until it was safe to come back. Four months of virtual meetings later and a return to the office is on the horizon! We caught up with Rosie, our People Associate, to find out how the People Team are planning a safe and flexible return for our colleagues.

How did the transition from office to home go?

To be honest, we have always encouraged our employees to work flexibly. As a business, we trust our people to do the right thing and get the job done. That means we don’t need people to work 9-5pm at a desk and have always let our people work really autonomously. This has had a really positive impact on our employee engagement and also meant that when lockdown came along we were already all used to working from home to some extent!

The start of lockdown coincided with our office move which was helpful in a way because we were already packing up the office, cancelling subscriptions and services, and could provide furniture so that our team could work more comfortably from home. We were already well set-up with laptops and very familiar with Google Hangouts so that helped too.

We have set up Slack channels to allow our people to communicate informally and share challenges and ideas to help support one another. We have also had a big focus on mental health, introducing free coaching sessions to everyone in the company, access to an Employee Support Programme, and the Unmind app.

How have you been planning for a return to the office?

We have a huge checklist to work through ensuring the office is safe and aligned to government guidance before opening. It covers facilities management, making sure our people will be safe, a people plan and a comms plan so that everyone knows what’s going on and the new processes.

We’ve also been sending regular surveys to check in on how the team is feeling so that we can address any concerns. We’re pulling together a return-to-office crew so that the team can be involved with our reopening plan.

What are some of the obstacles you’ve come across during the process?

There are so many different ways to handle returning to the office, and advice is constantly changing. We’ve made this process easier to navigate by putting our employees first and not forcing everyone to return by a fixed date.

We’re going to remain really flexible and keep listening to the needs of our team. This genuine people-focused approach has enabled us to maintain our engagement despite everything changing around us!

Do you think office life will differ greatly from pre-COVID times?

I think we’ll definitely see more remote working compared to pre-COVID times. One plus side of lockdown has been the time saved from commutes, which we are now using to spend time with family, exercise, bake sourdough etc!

We don’t want to lose this newfound balance. The way we socialise as a team will differ too, so we’ll have to keep thinking creatively about how we get all 100 of us together for socials. So far we have had quizzes, games and even an online summer party!

What is some advice you would give to other companies looking to bring their teams back to work in the coming months?

1. Listen to your team. Everyone's personal situations will be different and there will be people on your team who are in an at-risk group, or who have caring responsibilities, or are struggling with their mental health. It’s so important that your return-to-the-office plan caters to the needs and concerns of your team as well as the business.

2. Communication. Remote working makes it difficult to know who has received which key messages so the safest bet is to have one ultimate source of information - we use Notion. You can still share info via Slack, Emails, All Hands etc. but make sure it’s then captured in one go-to place that you can direct people to for the latest updates.

3. Get advice. Keep up to date with the Government guidance and support around COVID. Your office manager can also join our networking forum omg to see how other teams are navigating the return to the office.

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Rosie Hyam, People Associate at City Pantry


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