What’s it like to go to the office after months of working from home?

On 2 March, our colleagues in Shanghai headed back to their desks for the first time since the 24 January.

Although most will still spend some time working remotely, for many getting back to the office, even for just a few days a week, is a milestone on the road to recovering some sort of new normality.

A milestone that many colleagues have met with a mix of relief, apprehension and excitement.

“Returning to a physical workplace has required a mindset shift after such an extended period of remote working,” explains Janet Huan, Senior Supply Chain GTM Manager, GTM Excellence.

The road to a new normal

A man walks down the aisle of a bus with cleaning equipment

For Kay Zhu, Marketing Management Trainee, the first issue she had to face was the practicality of how she was going to get to the office.

“I live quite far away from my workplace, and at first I had no idea how to stay safe during my daily commute,” she explains.

“However, I then decided to take the company shuttle bus, and all my worries disappeared when I saw how clean they were.”

Disinfected twice a day, the shuttles operate a strict hygiene and social distancing regime that includes limiting seating to one person per row, requiring 24-hour advance booking and the mandatory wearing of masks.

Everything is aimed at keeping the risk of transmission as low as possible, and helping people feel safe.

Creating a safer workspace

The office canteen where tables and chair have been separated with dividers between them

The new social distancing rules also mean that many things that used to be taken for granted are now highly regulated.

Before even stepping inside their office building, for example, everyone has to be granted a daily e-pass, which they can only receive once they have logged their daily health status and checked their temperature.

Lunchtimes at the canteen have also changed. They are now staggered by floor, with only one person at a time allowed to eat at each table.

There are also guidelines on how many people can take the lift or be in a meeting room at the same time. Hand gel is available everywhere and face masks have become obligatory. Similar measures are taking place across other China sites, such as labs and factories.

“Everyone is more conscious of personal hygiene, which is essential in order to keep everybody safe,” says Janet.

“But I have to say that wearing a mask all day in the office is a bit of a challenge – especially as the weather gets warmer,” she adds.

Pivoting to next best options

Confronted with all these new rules, Kay found it difficult at first to imagine how any work could get done.

The answer lay in the well-established network of virtual platforms and tools already in place to support agile working throughout the company.

While sometimes nothing beats a quick face-to-face chat, hopping on a Teams video call has quickly become a good substitute.

“Discussions are now done in writing or virtually,” says Kay, explaining how the shift to virtual meetings has allowed her to quickly gain experience and confidence in using remote working tools.

“Thanks to Company WeChat and Microsoft Teams, we are still aiming to reach all our goals,” says Janet.

Continuity and opportunity in crisis

She is not alone in being grateful for the support of technology during this crisis.

From helping colleagues sell products innovatively via live streaming and WeChat groups, to supporting home care teams fast-track new product launches, an agile mindset plus the right technology has allowed work to continue throughout the crisis – and help the team find new opportunities.

Products such as the Hygiene Botanicals range, Omo’s new line of disinfectant products, and personal hygiene products from Lifebuoy, Lux and Dove have had their launches fast-tracked at unprecedented speed.

As Janet concludes, “Despite all the changes and inconveniences, we are in the process of getting back to a (new) normal.”

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