After months telling people it’s not safe to leave the house, the Government lifted restrictions placed on restaurants in July, to enable dine-in services.
Before opening up to the public Romulo Café & Restaurant carried out a risk assessment and hired a cleaning company to disinfect the entire site. Despite knowing the space was clean, its founder and owner Rowena Romulo found another dilemma on her hands: convincing the cautious public that venturing out was safe.
It’s a similar challenge to the one facing many office-based businesses right now, and although the contexts are different, the same principles apply. Here's what you can learn.
See it to believe it
Posting pictures of the restaurant on social media was a key method of encouraging guests that it was safe to visit, Romulo says.
“Actually showing them how the restaurant looks right now” helped her customers see that the seating capacity had been reduced, there was a safe distance in between guests and that they’d built screens to create private pods for diners.
In an office, this could be pictures or videos that enable staff to see for themselves how you’ve made the workplace safe, such as showing one way systems or cleaning regimens in action.
The snowball effect
Word of mouth is likely to be a lot more convincing than words of advice from management. Research by Workhuman (previously Globoforce) found that while 80 per cent of workers said they trusted their peers, only 65 per cent trusted their senior leaders.
Romulo believes that the government’s “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme diffused a lot of worries about catching COVID-19 from restaurants for precisely this reason: seeing others doing it makes it seem less risky.
“The first week started slow and then, boy as we got to the bank holiday weekend, it was really manic. To the point that it was actually a record number of covers for us”, Romulo says.
For offices, phasing the return, initially with a small number of employees who wish to get away from home distractions, could convince more colleagues to trickle in over time.
Rethink your opening hours
Romulo believes that one of the biggest barriers to people dining in restaurants - particularly in London - is anxiety over using public transport.
While employers can’t make trains, tubes or buses any safer, they can adapt their opening hours, which is exactly what Romulo did when she noted that lunchtime was particularly empty at the restaurant.
Office-based firms will be all too aware of the rush hour problem: the more people resume their commutes, the riskier commuting gets. But they too have some room to flex by staggering start times throughout the morning. Employees who are worried about the journey are likely to jump at the chance to go when it’s quiet.
Where restaurants and offices differ, of course, is that restaurant staff can’t do their jobs from home. In this, office-based firms have the greatest flexibility available to them. Many will be considering closely whether it is indeed critical for people to come in, how often, and on what terms.
To explore what businesses are doing and what’s working best, Management Today and Hays have launched this survey, where you can anonymously share your organisation’s experience of reopening.
We’re also holding a new free virtual event in October, Leading in the Hybrid Workplace, where you’ll have the chance to hear the experiences of top businesses like Twitter, Severn Trent and HS2. Find out more here.
Image credit: Romulo Café & Restaurant