Slowly, the world is returning back to a sense of normality again. With the lifting of rules in many countries and states, there’s hope that this is the last we’ll see of coronavirus restrictions. But where does this leave companies who have been forced to adapt to a new way of work during the pandemic?
Lockdown has taught businesses and employees that a new way of work is possible. Many closed their office spaces during the coronavirus pandemic and staff were told to work remotely in line with government guidelines. For over a year, employees have no longer had to commute to the office everyday and the traditional 9-5 working day has been shaped into something much more flexible.
It’s clear that employees have grown to appreciate the flexibility and choice that working from home offers. Some employees are still keen to return back to the office, having missed the structure it adds to the week, as well as the focus and interaction that the workplace brings.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a mental health crisis which has only been exacerbated for those working in isolation.
As vaccines are widely distributed and lockdown measures are set to lift in many regions, here are some steps to consider before bringing employees back to the office full-time:
1. Have an effective communication strategy in place
It’s clear that careful planning will be required over the next few months to ensure that businesses are fully prepared to welcome their employees back to the office. It’s important now more than ever that safety requirements are put in place well in advance to help employees adjust to working life in a post-pandemic landscape, after getting accustomed to remote working.
A clear return-to-office plan must be communicated to all employees to ensure that staff feel safe and comfortable. The plan should address what safety measures are in place to help protect employees (e.g. office ventilation, mask distribution, hand sanitizer and capacity limits); the protocol for any employee that tests positive for COVID-19, and how management intends to update their employees on any changes.
2. Ensure the transition back into the office is gradual
Planning carefully for a more gradual approach means that employees will feel less overwhelmed by the shift away from remote working. Also, it will allow management to identify and respond to any problems along the way. For example, companies could adopt a phased approach to encourage employees to work in the office twice within the first month, and then build up from there.
Whilst bringing employees back to the office will be a priority for many businesses, research by LiveCareer reveals that almost one third (29%) of employees would quit their job if remote working is no longer an option. Respecting employee choices while balancing with business needs will be crucial to preventing a sudden talent drain at a time that’s crucial for your business to build back and recover. For staff who are in the high-risk category but want to return to the office, provide them with additional protective measures until they feel comfortable.
3. Offer mental health and well-being support for all employees
Research by mental health charity Mind found that 60% of adults and more than two-thirds (68%) of young people said their mental health had gotten worse during lockdown. Staff burnout has also become an increasing concern since the pandemic, as the work-life balance is blurred. Because of these additional stressors, it has never been more important for management to support the mental health of their employees.
Companies that are shown to prioritize wellbeing often find their staff are more productive and are less likely to require sick-leave or time off, as well as reducing turnover rates. Fully recognizing the impact of mental illness on employees, especially during a pandemic, is reflected in the health and continued growth of the wider business.
Management can help to play a key role in supporting their employees. Be that emotional support by speaking openly about mental wellbeing with employees and checking-in regularly to discuss any potential or existing stressors, or by offering financial support, which can be one of the most difficult burdens for employees.
4. Set time aside for team building activities
After months and months of Zoom calls, management should prioritize team building activities to promote valuable and meaningful relationships at work (and outside of work too). Scheduling team lunches or planning in-person events after work will help to reconnect co-workers again, and lead to a positive and sociable company culture.
It’s unlikely that businesses will ever return back to their pre-pandemic state. The transition from remote working to the office will be full of challenges but with effective communication and planning, and by prioritizing mental wellbeing throughout, a safe and seamless process for all employees can be achieved.