Confessions of a Workplace Manager

This week we talk to UK Workplace Manager, Kellie Lord-Thomas from Amnesty International who shares her thoughts on re-entering the workplace. Kellie is a really competent and confident leader with years of experience and it struck me, that so many Senior FM leaders are feeling these anxieties about bringing their colleagues back into the workplace. However, they have pushed these feelings aside and have galvanised themselves and their teams back into action. In this blog, Kellie is honest about her feelings and anxieties and how she and her team overcame them. We are also pleased to be hosting a live interview with Kellie where you can put your questions forward to her. Please email these through to with the subject title - Kellie Lord-Thomas

Kellie Lord-Thomas

23rd July

From the start of the pandemic, I was aware how COVID19 would impact how people would want to use the office going forward. The repeated phrase ‘new normal’ sent alarm bells ringing and I knew Facilities and Workplace teams would be at the forefront of any form of return to work.

Working from home initially, meant I had time to attend webinars and virtual coffees with industry peers. I was always too busy before but suddenly I had the space and time to attend. I’m grateful so many companies and thought leaders were willing to share their insights and learnings. It certainly put me in good stead when it came to reopen our office.

It’s been six weeks since the team and I returned to get things ready. It’s been a bizarre mix of nerves and determination. Being part of the solution during a crisis is every Workplace Manager’s dream yet I wasn’t prepared for how anxious it would make me feel. I’m not usually an anxious person but working to a new set of guidelines when there’s no blueprint is a new one on me.

I flit between having a clear vision of the changes required, to being unable to answer the very simplest of questions. Is it ok to allow staff access to the stationery cupboard? Are staff allowed to use the crockery? Have we done enough to reduce the risk of transmission in the showers? Am I right to adopt a hot desking approach to facilitate more people returning? Pre COVID, a response would have rolled off the tongue.

I’ve been communicating with staff and advised on the changes made. The responses have been positive, but I wasn’t prepared for the volume of unique questions posed by staff. Somehow, I forgot the Workplace isn’t a one size fits all environment. A blanket approach doesn’t benefit someone with ergonomic needs. The Government guidelines would lead you to believe once you’ve introduced social distancing in the workplace, your job will be done. Far from it!

Staff are anxious about returning. I’m anxious about them returning. You can put all the measures and signage in place, but you are relying heavily on staff to change their behaviours. I don’t want to spend my time telling staff to stay apart, especially when they are entitled to head to the pub after work.

These are challenging times and I’m glad to be leading the response on the ground, but I do worry about the level of responsibility being put on Workplace teams, who are also living through a pandemic. I am continually worried about the possibility of someone, or me displaying symptoms whilst at work. These are strange times for everyone. I can’t explain how I’ve been able to do this whilst I’m still not willing to sit inside a pub or go to a restaurant.

One change I have made, I now wear keys around my neck. For 20 years I’ve resisted but I’ve had too. With multiple areas restricted, I’ve realised the building is too big to keep popping back to the key cupboard. I call them my boob separators.

We opened on Monday and I’m still adjusting to seeing staff use the space. We haven’t had an influx of people and our stance is still work from home if you can. The small numbers that have come in have been impressed with the changes. The team and I have loved seeing colleagues again. Teams and Zoom are great, but nothing beats face to face interactions. It’s one aspect of working from home we’ve all missed most.

I’m learning it’s ok to not have all the answers. We’ve never done this before, it’s new to all of us. My advice to others who are in the same boat, try to take one day at a time. Allow yourself time to think through decisions. It’s ok to politely ask someone to take a step back if they are not socially distancing from you. I’ve also found talking openly with my team has helped. It doesn’t make you weak, it makes you human.

I’m hoping more staff return but I need to be patient and take solace in the fact that when they are ready, they’ll love it.