Return to work

“People feel more connected than they ever did”

On 23rd March, Boris Johnson announced a nationwide lock-down in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Two months on and little has changed.

It’s becoming clear that the return to work is not going to happen as quickly as many first thought, and it looks as though COVID19 will be with us in one form or another for some time yet – perhaps permanently.

But the waking murmurings of a slumbering workforce are starting to sound, the gears beginning to grind. As covered in our recent Breakfast Briefing, it’s time to start thinking about returning to work.


But before you do anything, you must ensure all decisions are made with both corporate and service perspectives in mind.

For colleagues, consider:

  • Does everyone know what their role is and what they are doing? Is the message understood?
  • How is my team’s emotional well-being? Do they need support?
  • What are staff expecting to happen or change over the coming months? How can we manage this?

For tenants/customers:

  • What are they expecting from our services? Can we realistically meet these expectations?
  • What mitigating actions do we have? What mitigating actions might we need?
  • Is there going to be a change in the way we provide our services? What might these changes look like?

Plan for the different stages of the disruption. After responding to the initial outbreak and preparing for the lockdown, you should now be thinking about planning for the different stages. Beyond this, start thinking about a ‘second spike’ plan and what that might entail.

Adapting to the future and re-imagining what it may look like will be crucial

Yvonne Castle is chief executive of Johnnie Johnson Housing and a board member of the NHC. Utilising the organisation’s ‘lean thinking’ methodology, her team virtually meets every day for a 10-minute chat to keep abreast of COVID19 developments and plans accordingly.

These ‘daily huddles’ combined with the proactive approach to planning outlined above has seen Johnnie Johnson operate as close to ‘normal’ as possible.

“It stood us in good stead,” says Yvonne, “because we started our planning pretty early.”

The Future

If you can, keep the core tenets of your organisation and the offer to both colleagues and tenants/customers the same. Where this is not feasible, look at what needs to change and how to go about changing it.

For colleagues, consider:

  • How successful has agile working been? How might this affect office use?Do we need to review employee contracts? Do they need to be updated?

For tenants/customers:

  • What services can we provide remotely? Would face-to-face delivery be better?
  • How can technology improve our service offer?

Johnnie Johnson is in the process of launching its ‘My Future Group’, the core focus of which is to assess and improve the organisation’s culture and offer to colleagues. Consulting with the board and staff well-being surveys have proved a crucial part of the planning, and initial meetings are due to begin this week.

“We’re not using the government language of recovering and rebuilding,” says Yvonne. “We’re just talking about the future.”


To provide leadership you must be capable of giving it. This means looking after yourself and recognising when your operating system may be out of whack.

Watch out for others, too. Be perceptive and look for signs that something may not be quite right. Do they look well? Are they acting unusually? These are all signs that their personal well-being may be suffering or that something is on their mind.

Next, take control and implement some structure. Many of your employees will be working in novel ways in new environments, so it’s vital that they and their teams get up and running and into a routine as quickly as possible. Once things have settled, shift to a more ‘empowering’ leadership style and lead by example.

When the lockdown began, Yvonne and her team implemented a daily schedule, so every department knows when they are meeting and what their priorities are for the day. Communication has been vital, says Yvonne, whose team collaborates and corresponds via Microsoft Teams.

“People are saying now they feel more connected than they ever did,” she says.

Many organisations will now be thinking about Stage 3 of McKinsey’s 5R framework

‘Return’ is the third stage of the McKinsey 5R framework. Once this stage has been completed, it’s time to think about navigating the ‘new normal’…

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