Returning to the workplace after COVID-19

15 Jan 2021

2020 was a challenging year for many due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses faced some of their greatest challenges in attempting to continue operations while also minimizing risk in their employees. In the last few months, we’ve seen how businesses adapt to a remote work model. This year, companies are now looking at how to introduce people back into the workplace.

Much like any period of adjustment, returning to the workplace is in itself a challenge. It’s not as simple as packing up and going back to the office once quarantine restrictions are lifted. Safety must still remain a priority and a transition period may be needed. In fact, returning to the office after a long time can feel quite ambivalent for some. Many often talk about how much they miss their office culture and how it became a part of their lives. At the same time, working from home meant developing new habits and routines that now have to be given up.  

Safety Always First

As noted earlier, the health and safety of the workforce should remain a top priority. People being asked to return to the office should expect new safety protocols in place. Businesses cannot think of having normal operations without their staff feeling both safe and a semblance of normalcy.

As of this writing, the pandemic is still very much active despite the presence of vaccines. Until the virus can be declared under control, companies need to establish safety guidelines for all. The use of protective equipment, social distancing rules and the checking of temperatures are just the tip of the iceberg. Protocols should also be in place should the worst case scenario of staff showing positive symptoms come about. 

A Period of Adjustment

Because of this “new normal,” returning staff  should expect differences in their usual office environment and in what they do. Returning to the office amidst a pandemic is a challenge for all those involved. This means that office workers who’ve adjusted to working remotely may require a mindset shift upon returning to their original workplace. The CDC listed several guidelines that both companies and staff can follow to ensure minimal risk of infection. 

At the same time, business leaders should display empathy and understanding towards their  team that was impacted by the virus differently. Some may have been lucky enough to minimize the risk of infection and can possibly return to the office.

Social distancing and protection should be an essential part of offices now.

There are also those who are in higher risk groups of an infection – whether personally or within their proximity – that may make them reluctant to return. Some may have ingrained their remote work approach as part of their routine that they may not be eager to return just yet. They may have taken on additional responsibilities – such as caregiving or acting as teachers to their children – that make it difficult to do so. Regardless of the case, companies will be facing a new reality when they decide it is the best for their teams to return to work. Both they and the company must coexist and remain sensitive to their needs to fully reacclimate into a new normal in the workplace.

Communication Is The Key

So how does this happen? As we’ve seen in several situations, these protocols can only become effective through comprehensive communication. Companies can communicate what changes will be part of their return-to-work plans. At the same time, team members can also address their concerns to help alleviate potential problems that may arise. As discussed, there needs to be a strong sense of safety and comfort within employees who feel they are at risk in returning to the office. To do that, it is crucial for everyone to be on the same page and maintain the same safety practices.  

It’s easy for people to believe that 2021 will be bleak. Companies can help soothe these worries by staying mindful of safety precautions. With more people adapting to the new normal, these precautions help reduce the risk of spreading and infection as they venture back into the office. Companies and their staff must be very clear with their return-to-work plans and understand how it affects everyone differently. By enabling real communication that prioritises safety concerns, companies can continue to develop their culture and engagement amidst such peculiar times.