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

Back to the office with V&A CEO David Green.
Image: Supplied

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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There are many drawbacks to the modern office layout, which is tending towards little pigeonhole workstation for the peons. Small cubicles have been replaced by miserable little 1m x 600mm pigeonholes.

Productivity goes for a loop, because you are constantly distracted from your work by the in-person and phone conversations that happen within literally arm’s length from you.

And if you want a guaranteed way of causing Covid Waves 5, 6, 7 and so on, put people in their miserable chicken batteries, in close proximity of one another, for 8 hours a day, 22 days a month.

Sounds like a terrible idea, no one wants to go back and the 4 people that do need help clearly. Offices are depressing and no adult should be watched over like that. Plus offices cost a company roughly R150k a year per employee by just by them coming into the office. Time to convert all that property into something useful like urbanfarms or housing for the poor. The days of the office are over and good riddance

I agree. The concept of an office in the city is obsolete.

@HG “..something useful like housing for the poor”

And what type of Return on Investment can a developer thus expect in such schemes?

Can YOU BE THE FIRST one to invest your retirement monies? We’ll follow up if all goes well.

Why housing for the poor..? Student housing, and housing for people who prefer to live in a city environment with apartments and amenities comes to mind. Then you’ll just have to persuade them to wear their masks in the apartment complexes…

I cannot understand this concept of “water cooler” conversations and impromptu “stick your head in a colleagues’ office cubicle” to stimulate creativity, encourage team work, and offer a “better service” to clients/customers. That is absolute nonsense as a reason for returning to a company office space. Be honest and admit that you dont trust your staff to wfh and that you need people in the office to validate yourself as a manager. At least then your staff know where they stand.

Nothing like micro management, terrible traffic and bad coffee to deter stimulation of the creative thought process, no matter how many watercooler conversations you have. Nothing wrong with Teams or Zoom to have as many conversations as you like.

For those who can wfh, allow them the freedom of choice (permanent wfh or hybrid), it cant be about lack of productivity and delivery because they have already been delivering the goods for the past 18 months.

If you dont like wfm as a concept, dont kill it for those whom it works well for and who thrive under it.

No-one actually wants to go back. Why deal with traffic, snarky work colleagues, crappy bosses and office politics and people who want to create mini-empires.

Keep your ridiculous “masked and double jabbed”. WTF would I want to sit in a cubicle the whole day with a mask on?

The wfh innovators appear to have arrived at a consensus. The question is should they be promoted or dismissed? One smart apple in a tub of sham over-promoted ones can only work if the smart one is prepared to carry the rest. In that case they will soon resign. The problem is self-healing. Carry on down the drain.

End of comments.

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