The chance to reconnect: how one Yorkshire business made a safe return to the office | All together

Staff have returned to HSL’s West Yorkshire head office.

Staff have returned to HSL’s West Yorkshire head office.
Photograph: Joanne Crawford/Guardian

It’s a Thursday morning, and at the head office of HSL handcrafted furniture, a fire drill is under way. “We’re maintaining social distancing, of course,” says CEO Guy Critchlow. “We say as long as you can fit a two-seater sofa between you, you’re far enough apart.”

To date, about half of the 80-strong team at the company’s head office, based in Batley, West Yorkshire, have returned from being furloughed or working from home.

Critchlow has worked hard to make sure staff are comfortable coming back to the office, whether on a full- or part-time basis. “We looked at cases individually – for example, if someone didn’t feel comfortable coming back we sought to understand why and make reasonable adjustments,” he says. “We’ve also devised a system where if we can’t accommodate a whole team to be permanently at their desks and distancing, we rotate its members between work and home. It means everyone gets the chance to reconnect with their line manager, other members of their team and the business in person.”

Although many of us are enjoying the freedom of working from home, he believes it can’t compete with working side-by-side with colleagues. “We all spend a lot of time at work, forming relationships and friendships, and you see people lift when they connect with each other,” he says.

Guy Critchlow, HSL CEO, Batley. Photography by Joanne Crawford

HSL CEO Guy Critchlow. Photograph: Joanne Crawford/Guardian

Since the start of August, Kathryn Beaty, a learning and development manager at HSL, has been working two days from home and three in the office each week. Although she enjoys the work-life balance of home working, she missed spending time with colleagues.

“We decided that flexible working would be the best option for me in terms of productivity, and I can choose when to come in depending on the needs of the business, and who else is in,” she says.

“Before I came back, I was looking forward to that social interaction. If you need to know something instantly, or want to bounce ideas off people, you’ve got that at your fingertips. And you can get more involved in conversations that happen off the cuff, too – being back is great from that perspective.”

To give staff peace of mind on their return, the office has put safety measures in place – including temperature checks on arrival and one-way systems for when employees are on the move. Staff are encouraged to avoid public transport by walking or cycling to work where possible – Critchlow’s own 45-mile commute is via electric car. Most staff also opt to wear a face mask when visitors are on the premises. “We want our staff to feel confident that the business has done all the right things to keep them safe, without oversanitising the experience of coming into work,” says Critchlow.

As a result, he believes that the overall experience of returning to the office has been a positive one.

“We’ve been through this moment together and come out the other side, and it’s given everyone a different perspective,” says Critchlow. “We’re a very people-orientated, family business, and there are a lot of community ties here. It’s nice to see everyone back in the office – there’s nothing quite like that buzz of being together.”

This advertiser content was paid for by the UK government. All together (Working safely) is a government-backed initiative tasked with informing the UK about the Covid-19 pandemic

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