The reputational risks of returning to the office – and how to manage them

Magnus Boyd 22 Jun 2021

As we approach the fourth and final step of the UK Government’s roadmap out of lockdown, a return to office life is likely to be top of the agenda for many businesses.  But with COVID-19 still very much a part of life there remains an enormous amount to consider.

Since it began, the pandemic has amplified a host of reputational risks and challenges, and the ‘Return to Work’ phase is no exception: alongside welcoming colleagues back to the office, there are some potentially complex issues that you will likely need to give some thought.

Anticipating and mitigating the reputational risks ahead of time is always preferable to responding to a crisis. By taking action now and communicating your plans effectively, you can ensure employees feel well looked after and confident in their leaders.

If you’re not sure where to start, here are our top three tips to ensure reputational resilience:

  1. Check your employment contracts. Is there an updated policy in place? You may, for example, want to set out the amount of time you expect employees to split between home and office, as well as the nature of the work they’re doing.  A simple review of existing contracts, then an update to reflect the ‘next normal’ will provide clarity for both you and your employees.  It’s worth noting that employers will need to be reasonable and consistent: there cannot be one set of rules for some and a different set of rules for others without being able to justify that difference.
  2. Remember that Data Breach is still a significant risk. If you are holding an increased amount of personal data about your employees, remember your responsibility attached to that data. This should include carrying out checks to make sure that your data security is up-to-date and fit for purpose – so that you can be sure it can cope with the increase. It’s worth asking yourself what you would you do if there was a data breach. Would you be able to act quickly and decisively?  A rehearsed and prepared response can be of enormous value here. 
  3. Consider your ESG policies and your Corporate Legacy. As we emerge out of lockdown, ESG policies are under scrutiny like never before. So, take a deep dive back into your corporate history, as well as checking what you are doing now. Implement a strategy to review and manage inaccurate or historic information, (including what’s in your digital portfolio), as most of the misinformation in this day and age ‘lives’ online.

Finally, keep an eye on the future. We’ve all had to make sweeping changes to the way that we work, and it’s likely that still more change lies ahead.  Protecting your reputation on an ongoing basis is a useful muscle to develop.