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Returning to the workplace after coronavirus

Allen Associates, News & Blog

As businesses start to return to the workforce after the lockdown, it’s almost inevitable that candidates may have some anxiety. After getting used to working independently at home for many months, and developing individual routines and working habits, it may be tough to readapt to office life. It may also be a huge adjustment for those who have taken a long break as a result of being furloughed.

Whilst each office will have its working environment, we know that to comply with new social distancing requirements, businesses will have been working hard to make significant adaptations. It may be through the implementation of screens to separate staff, or it could be through the addition of new entry/exit points. Some businesses may choose to use staggered arrival times whilst others may choose to reduce the number of staff on-site at any one time. This means that staff may not be returning to the same workplace that they left, and the adjustment may be quite overwhelming.

However, employers are well aware of the changing workplace. They will understand that employees will have different priorities and concerns. They will know that with the ongoing closure of schools, many working parents may still have to juggle home-schooling responsibilities. They also know that those living in large cities such as Oxford or London may be relying upon public transport - creating further anxieties about commuting. As such, HR teams will be creating new policies to reintegrate the physical workforce. As part of this, the CIPD has recommended that managers have a “re-orientation or re-induction process for returning staff… to facilitate an effective return to the workplace.” We anticipate that HR teams will be continuously evolving these policies over many months as the situation continues to change.

As employees prepare to return to offices in the coming weeks/months, we know that there will be many different elements to consider. Some may be about alleviating fears, whilst others may be taking a positive view and considering how to progress their career having taken time to think about what they want to achieve.

Employees should… prepare their mental health

As workers start to return to work, they may find that they develop new anxieties and worries. Coping with the physical changes to an office, or the mental impact of using public transport may be daunting. For candidates who have anxiety, they must learn to talk about their fears with their line managers.

ACAS state that both employers and employees should have open and honest dialogue ahead of any return to work. They suggest that employees should feel involved in the decision-making process and that if they have valid concerns (perhaps they live with a family member who is shielding), the employer should try and offer extra steps to mitigate risks. If a worker feels that they are unsafe, then they have the right to talk a union representative or make a report to the Health and Safety Executive.

We recommend that employees talk to colleagues as well as senior representatives. Not only could this help them to understand if other co-workers have the same concerns but talking about worries can be an important part of managing mental health. MIND has created a useful resource for managers and supervisors which may help them to support themselves and their teams effectively.

Employees could…think about what they want to do differently

For those who have taken time off completely – perhaps they’ve been furloughed, or maybe they took time as annual leave, they may be ready and raring to go, feeling refreshed after the break.

Working independently at home can change the way that people work. They may find that they’ve discovered new, more productive ways to work through new cloud-based technology, or they may find that more flexible working hours (perhaps outside of the traditional 9am-5pm working day) is more effective. If this is the case, then employees may wish to talk to their line managers about what they want to do differently upon their return to the office.

Due to the nature of the pandemic, some workers may have been furloughed due to a lack of work, whilst others may have been busier than ever as they had to pick up the workloads of others who may have been self-isolating or juggling home schooling. If an employee has been taking on additional work and responsibilities, then it could be used as an opportunity to speak to a line manager about the possibility of a promotion.

In our view, candidates could use their upcoming return to the office as an opportunity to consider what they want to do differently and incorporate this into their discussions with line managers and HR teams.

Employees could…use new skills in the workplace

Over the last few months, there have numerous opportunities for people to pick up new skills – many of which can be taken into the workplace. Whether it’s through learning a new language or volunteering to support the NHS, many candidates have used the time away from the office to develop themselves both personally and professionally. If relevant, employees should demonstrate to their line manager how they can bring new skills to the table.

We’ve seen how businesses have worked creatively over the past few months, and this could lead to new opportunities for business success. Employees may have seen other businesses try new approaches – for example, marketing professionals may have been inspired by another brand’s communication strategy or finance teams may have used new cloud-based technologies to complete their tasks. In which case, if they’ve learnt something new whilst working from home, they should explain to their employer why it could be beneficial to remain in place. They may be able to make a strong business case for further investment into a new system or process which could bring greater professional benefits.

We are working closely with our candidates and clients to help them recognise and adapt to the new landscape. If you have any questions about what you could expect from the workplace post-coronavirus, please get in touch.