Why declutter?

In March 2020, businesses were forced to close with little warning. Employees upped and left their desks, with many not returning for the next 18 months.

Now, as employers plan to re-open offices, how can they encourage staff back when many have become so accustomed and happy working at home?

Decluttering is an essential part of this. Employees fear the thought of returning to their office to find it as they left, with desks covered in dust, dirty cups still in the sink, and paperwork scattered as it was left back in March last year. We have all moved on. Times have changed, and employees are indicating that they don’t want to return to ‘normal’. They want change. Bringing employees back to the office to assist with decluttering is a great way for them to mark the end of the old era and offer them closure on their former working space.

The last year has highlighted many benefits when it comes to the workplace, including flexible working. Thankfully, forward thinking businesses are realising the potential benefits of this and have adopted hybrid models with staff splitting their time between home and the office.

However, for this to be successful, the office space needs to be repurposed and changed. It can no longer operate in the same way it did 18 months ago. Employees needs and wants have changed since then, and businesses need to plan how their office spaces will be used in the future as their workforce adapts to a new way of working.

Imagine the trauma of returning to an office to be confronted with a space which was exactly as it was when you left last year. At the very least, businesses need to ensure that the office is tidy and clean. However, our experts at MovePlan suggest businesses need to go further than this if they want to retain employees and bring them back to the office.

Suki Reilly, Regional Director at MovePlan, explained: “It’s an employee market and if business leaders don’t offer a choice and an attractive place to work, then other companies will.”

Decluttering is the first step. “It’s the ideal time to spring clean or make changes in preparation for staff coming back,” said Suki, who has worked with various clients to support them through this process.

Where to start?

Creating a plan is a great place to start when it comes to decluttering. Every business is different and its needs and aims will differ.

Reviewing what is kept on site and deciding what should stay and what to get rid of is an important part of the process. Employers need to review retention policies and communicate any changes made to their team. With most businesses having been out of the office for more than 18 months, any paperwork left behind is unlikely to be needed any longer if it hasn’t been looked at for the last year-and-a-half.

“Some companies have adopted hybrid models so some people might not be coming back to the desk they left behind,” explained Suki, adding: “There might also be new joiners who have never been in the office. All of this requires planning so we have been working with clients to see what they need depending on what their goal is and getting all the key players together and getting a plan in place.”

Involving staff

Employees will need to be involved to some degree in any decluttering project. Some might have personal belongings left on site, or paperwork and items which need sorting. It becomes challenging if someone else does this on their behalf, and so businesses may want to consider how to include employees in the process.

It could be that teams are invited to come in at different times to assist; that experts are involved to identify items and engage with staff; or that a large digitisation effort is required. You can read more about how to manage this in our article here.

According to Suki, there are lots of aspects to consider, which might be overlooked without the involvement of experts: “Some people might not have been in the office since last March, so their badge might not work. There might be policies on taking company property home. There might be unclaimed items. If something hasn’t been looked at for the last 18 months, is it really needed?

“All of this needs to be considered and the logistics need to be planned meticulously. There is no point asking people to come in without understanding first the plan and knowing what’s going to happen.”

What are the key steps?

Once a plan has been formulated, the key steps of how to execute that need to be set. Questions bosses need to ask are what is the timeframe, what do we want to achieve, and how do we execute our plan? There also needs to be a follow up process, whereby leaders review and evaluate the whole project.

Suki said it is important to also engage with employees and explain what is being done and why.

What next?

Many companies are adopting new working models, offering staff flexible working arrangements. Now might not be the time to make big, permanent changes, such as redesigning the office or relocating.

Some businesses are decluttering and testing their new working model first, especially when there is so much conflicting information around the future of the workplace.

“Businesses might take 18 months to two years to find their ‘new norm’ then they might do a big refurb,” Suki said, adding: “They need to make it fit for purpose now to bring people back to the office before making any big decisions.”

Whatever businesses decide to do, making the office a place people want to spend time is vital. “If there’s not a reason to go into the office people won’t go, unless it’s mandatory,” warned Suki, “Enlisting the help of change management experts to help navigate through these changes will ensure it runs smoothly and bring in best practise.”

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