Thu, 04 Nov 2021

After 18 months of remote working and adapting to a ‘new normal’ of Teams calls and makeshift home offices, it was with great excitement that we took our first steps towards returning to our Solihull offices over the last two months.

Our gradual and covid-safe return to the office is a major milestone for us as a business, demonstrating just how far we've come over the past year and a half – and this also marks the start of what will be an important test and learn phase for many employers.

Our ‘Smart Working’ approach to returning to the office will involve a hybrid model where team members will be based in the office part-time, while continuing to work remotely for the rest of the week.

When planning our return to the office, maintaining the safety and wellbeing of our employees was our top priority. To ensure all of our colleagues felt as comfortable and safe as possible when coming back into our offices for the first time, we introduced additional safety measures – with all teams asked to practice social distancing and wear masks when moving around the building. Further to this, we’ve also taken steps to ensure that there is only ever a small number of people in the office at any given time and have allocated every team member a dedicated desk to work at.

As well as ensuring the physical health of our employees, we also recognised our responsibility to protect their mental wellbeing. It goes without saying that adapting to being in the office again after a year of working remotely will affect everyone differently. And we recognised that while some people might be eager to get back and find that this has a really positive impact on their mental health, for others returning to office working may come with feelings of trepidation. By engaging with our Mental Health First Aiders to support those who might be struggling and running sessions to help us to understand individual colleagues’ concerns, we were able to help make this transition easier for those who felt anxious about the change.

To cultivate a sense of excitement and positivity around this new Smart Working initiative, all team members were sent images of the new offices ahead of their first day back. In order to empower managers to support their teams during this transitional period and prepare them for the return to the office, we also provided training sessions on how to manage teams in this hybrid model, giving them with the skills required to help engage and reconnect team members in person again.

To help ease everyone back in to office life, we ran a series of reintroduction days throughout September where our colleagues were invited to spend three to four days over the course of a month in the office. This gave team members across the business the opportunity to visit our newly refurbished offices in Solihull and get comfortable with the new layout, learn more about the safety measures we’ve put in place and kickstart in-person collaborative working again by utilising our new collaboration zones.

As part of our commitment to sustainability, we were also keen to maintain the positive environmental changes we made during lockdown when returning to the office for the first time. As well as reducing the number of people commuting into the office on a daily basis, we also introduced a new initiative, Arval Ignition, which incentivises colleagues to choose a company car that reduces CO2 emissions.

As a Top Employer UK, we’re committed to supporting the learning and development of all of our team members, and perhaps one of the most positive aspects to come out of this shift to a hybrid working model has been the opportunities it has opened up for our colleagues to network internally again. This has been particularly valuable for newer team members who may not have been able to meet their colleagues face to face until now.

We understand that there is no one size fits all when it comes to hybrid working, so as well as supporting those who feel cautious about returning to the office, those who want to work in the office more frequently will also be able to request to do so. Our flexible working policy also means parents and carers will be able to flex their hours as needed to ensure they can continue to balance their work and family responsibilities when working in the office.

As we move into 2022, we plan to slowly increase the amount of time our team members spend in the office, with a view to eventually moving to a 50/50 Smart Working model. The key to the success of hybrid working is the ability to be flexible, and just as we were able to adapt to remote working for the first time back in May 2020, we will seek to learn and adapt by listening to feedback from our colleagues across the business and making changes to refine and improve this new working model.