As we write, 75% of adults in the UK have now been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. And with the percentage increasing, employers and employees are beginning to think about a potential return to the office, and looking at ways in which this would work.
Whilst some organisations are considering a hybrid approach to working, with staff splitting their working hours between home, third workplaces and the office, others are still experimenting with what works best for them.
For business owners, it’s a daunting time because they want to do what is best for their employees but also get business back to where it was before the pandemic hit. For those who have been remote working since the pandemic hit, it is also a daunting time with the idea of returning to the office filling them with anxiety and/or worry.
If you are the employer…
There are several things to consider when approaching the return to the office transition. The first one is to be open, honest and transparent with your employees. Communicate with them about your thoughts, share information about the processes you’re putting into place and lay out how you intend to protect them and their well-being at work. If your staff aren’t clear about your intentions and plans, it can cause a lot of uncertainty and anxiety. Make it clear to your employees that they can come to you with any questions or concerns they may have about their individual circumstances, and make them feel as though they’re able to approach you about the subject openly and honestly.
Setting expectations is the next integral part of your plan when it comes to welcoming employees back to the workplace. Whatever model you decide to implement, whether it’s coming back to the office full time or adopting a hybrid model – it’s important to lay the plans down in steps that are easy to follow and to understand. Your employees will know where they stand and what is expected of them ahead of time and it gives them time to transition.
Involve your employees in your decision making, collect feedback from them and share your findings with the team. This way people can see how you came to your decision and understand better the process behind the decision you’ve made. They will also feel like they’ve had a say in what happens and how it will affect them. Having them included in the process will also highlight things you may or may not have thought about, helping you with the pros and cons of each option.
Don’t be afraid to admit when something isn’t working and go back to the drawing board. There is no harm in implementing a decision after doing all of the above items and then realising it’s not going to work. It doesn’t have to be a decision you make and then stick to. If you articulate this to your team they will know that your approach is on a trial and error basis and that tweaks or changes might need to be made to perfect the new way of working.
If you are an employee…
It’s important firstly to accept that what you are feeling is perfectly normal, any anxiety about returning to the workplace is justified and you should get the emotional support you need when it comes to transitioning back to a new way of working. It’s important to check in with how you’re feeling and monitor your anxiety. Be candid with your boss about how returning to the office makes you feel and don’t try and bury your feelings about it. If you don’t feel comfortable discussing mental health with your workplace, then consider a therapist or counselling.
Try to put yourself in your bosses shoes, and note that this is their business and therefore their livelihood. It’s important to be patient with them as they navigate this new way of working and it’s also integral that you offer a degree of flexibility to help things work well. We have already proven that we can adapt to remote working quickly and effectively, and there shouldn’t be a reason why we can’t adapt to a way of working that incorporates office work, working from home and or/third workplaces. Give yourself time to adapt to new changes too and be kind to yourself!
Inject some positivity! One way you can help all the team is to inject some positivity into the day, strike up conversations that are light-hearted and unrelated to the new way of working. Helping make your colleagues settle and feel secure with the new changes will in turn help you. It’ll also remind you that working in person with your team can be enjoyable and mood-boosting.
—- In Summary —-
There is no wrong or right way to approach the return to the office. Whatever your workplace has decided in terms of returning to work, continuing with remote working or adopting a hybrid solution – it’s important to consider the above steps to make it a less scary experience for all involved. Being mindful of others’ feelings and thoughts is important, and it’s going to be a time of transition for everyone. We’re all in it together.