Over the last six months, office workers have slowly been making their way back into the office and returning to their daily schedule.
For many, this transition has been gradual with a range of new challenges influencing everyday lives, changing routines and creating an environment of constant change and adaptation.
Thankfully for most office employees, employers have remained flexible with working arrangements throughout this period. For those returning to an office setting, many businesses have implemented a staggered approach, with additional employees making their return each month. Others have adapted a rotating schedule for employees seeking a balance between working from home and spending face-to-face time with their colleagues.
While bosses can encourage their employees to return to the office, very few have taken this option, instead allowing employees to continue working from home if they chose to do so. As the future of all pandemics is difficult to predict, various Australian corporations are encouraging their employees to continue working from home provided their presence isn’t business-critical. This flexibility has allowed employees who are hesitant to return an additional peace-of-mind, and many businesses are also benefiting from this arrangement.
Along with significant financial incentive for businesses to reduce their office space footprint, flexible working arrangements provide additional time and space for employers to ensure they are maintaining a COVID-safe workplace. With less staff on site, it is far easier for businesses to meet their additional responsibilities around safe distancing between employees, safely managing the flow of people within the workplace, meeting minimum space requirements within meetings and ensuring that shared surfaces are continually cleaned and sanitized.
Understandably, many businesses have found it far easier to simply allow their employees to continue working from home.
However, there is a growing number of employees who would prefer to return to their desk. For the majority of this group, their reasons revolve around the friendships, culture and workplace benefits they do not experience working from home. And while many Australians are seeking a flexible working arrangement, those returning to the office in 2021 will be faced with a changed working environment.
For workers who are returning to their desk in 2021, additional COVID-safe requirements make for a more complex business environment, especially those who are combining various safety requirements with their in house dining options.
For employers who provide workplace dining options, additional attention must be paid to providing an updated offering of meals and their packaging, while also ensuring front-line servers and the meals they serve remain COVID-safe.
For the servers themselves, standards around food safety and contact tracing have been increased to meet the requirements outlined for any traditional cafe or restaurant. To support these standards, the meals served have adapted to a more “grab-and-go” style offering which reduces the amount of time spent congregating with colleagues and limits contact with each meal.
However, considering the limited availability of dining options within many CBDs over the last twelve months, high-quality and healthy workplace foodservice has continued to become increasingly important.
This is perhaps best illustrated by the embattled cafe and restaurant owners within Australia’s central business districts, who continue to experience a prolonged drop in foot traffic. Sydney’s CBD alone has seen a 50% drop in public transport patronage compared to early 2020. For workplaces that are able to provide flexible in-house dining options, they can be assured that their staff will continue to remain productive despite the challenging circumstances 2021 is certain to produce.
This is especially true for businesses who continue to provide flexible working arrangements. By providing quick and simple meals on the go, employees who are limiting their exposure at the office, on public transport and while dining, can still benefit from nutritious dining options. With these options in place, employees with complex personal circumstances also don’t miss out, especially those with weakened immune systems or those caring for others who may also be vulnerable.
As the threat of COVID-19 continues to persist within Australia, employers who are prepared for frequent disruptions caused by snap-lockdowns will ensure their employees are able to quickly adapt and benefit from various workplace programs.
For businesses that continue providing their staff with a variety of office and dining options, they ensure that employees are able to thrive within their personal circumstances and that productivity and overall mental wellbeing continue to thrive. Ultimately, successful implementation of flexible working arrangements and employee benefit programs during 2021 will drive the increased productivity that comes with a well-established workplace foodservice program.