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‘It’s time for things to return to normal’

Masked and double vaccinated, it is time for employees to head back to the office. For many, it has been so long they might have forgotten which button on the elevator to press to get to their floor, but there are many reasons – personal and professional – that indicate it is time for things to return to normal.

With a shift to working from home, what is V&A’s thinking behind getting employees back in the office?

The Waterfront is the country’s most visited destination, and a big part of its operation involves the physical upkeep of the property and its facilities, as well as direct engagement with its many tenants to successfully run their businesses, much of this can only be done by our staff being physically on site. While we have managed to maintain awareness and engagement for our precinct experience through our digital platforms to recreate some of the magic of being in the Waterfront, our staff have understood the special responsibility we have be visible on the precinct as the lockdown conditions have eased and to support each other as our visitors return to enjoy their favourite outings in our neighbourhood.

Has the increased momentum in the vaccine rollout been one of the contributing factors to more willingness for the organisation to have employees return to the office?

People do look to us for hope that things can return to some kind of normal, even if it’s not quite what they are used to with the health guidelines and lockdown regulations in place. The majority of our staff and tenants are getting the vaccine, understanding that we play an important role in helping ease the country out of the lockdown and contributing to the revival in our tourism sector.

In your opinion, what are the advantages of staff returning and working from the office?

 The greatest benefit to being in the office is that we are able to restore some of the lost energy creativity passion and drive within the business, you might say the very culture that makes the business what it is. From a physical perspective the benefit is the informal nature of interactions for socializing and problem solving which also happen to have a direct impact on our ability to support our tenants and monitor the visitor experience of the Waterfront.

What are some of the key downsides you have experienced as an organisation due to the move to work from home?

The biggest challenge to implementing work from home practises initially came from adapting to the technology of the new way of working, followed by some degree of anxiety around employee collaboration and culture. However, we were able to quickly adapt and have achieved remarkable success that’s allowed us to maintain productivity. However, over a longer period there has been a noticeable fall off in the energy and drive within the business. Further we have a small group of people who seem to be working harder and a group who are doing the minimum, getting by and there is an increasing frustration building. Further there has been a noticeable number of people whose mental health has significantly declined and who are taking strain

Are some employees unwilling to return to the office, and if so, is there a hybrid working model that V&A is also considering to accommodate this?

A key aspect to our culture as an organisation relates to the services we provide to our tenants and visitors and our ability to respond to opportunities. The pulse of the Waterfront is best experienced by being here.

Our model has always been to be flexible to personal circumstance while also proving support to staff choosing to work from home within the business areas that can accommodate this. The need has been to strike the right balance between work-from-home and precinct-based work requirements without losing the sense of the culture and identity of our business. To this end, we’ve seen most of our staff adapt well to the increased flexibility to work remotely without losing touch of who we are as a business.

What are the steps V&A is taking to encourage staff to come back? For instance, are there incentives being offered?

The key incentive has been in recognising that our workplace cannot return to how it functioned in the past through implementing improved policies that offer flexibility and also offer degrees of autonomy for staff to manage their time.

With the goal of 100% office occupancy – by when do you expect this to be the case?

 The goal is now linked to the health protections we can offer each other both in and out of the office. For the moment this is not easy to predict.

 What are the safety protocols in place to ensure employee health and safety when returning to the office?

 Precautions remain in place for everyone’s safety and health, such as temperature screening when staff enter the office, a health status daily check-in process on their mobile phones, the requirement to wear masks at all times when away from their desk, keeping to social distancing guidelines and the frequent sanitising of all working and social spaces in the office. Staff also report their Covid status when they get infected, allowing those who work alongside them to also take precautions such as isolating for the necessary period prescribed.

David Green is CEO of the V&A Waterfront.

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