Return to the office

in Features

Lockdown has affected us all in different ways, and it is only normal to feel uncertain about what the future holds

Many people feel confused, worried and apprehensive about the changes going on around them – whether this means more people coming into work, going back to the workplace, or working alongside colleagues and customers again. Many organisations are exploring new hybrid working arrangements, while others will be considering a range of adjustments to the way work is done, to comply with government recommendations. These adjustments will depend on your job, and your individual circumstances.

For many, working from home has offered a lot of benefits. In fact, globally, eight out of ten countries rank not having to commute first on their list of benefits. People also value the ability to focus and be productive with less distractions of the office. They also like the range of settings where they can get their work done at home. Apparently, the opportunity to work from the kitchen, the living room or the home office offers a (surprising) amount of fulfillment. Globally, workers value greater work-life balance, more time for family, increased flexibility and greater autonomy.

There are also things people miss about the office. Isolation was the greatest concern from people working at home. We need our people, we miss our colleagues and work is a fundamental way this desire for belonging and community is fulfilled. Of course we can connect virtually, but it’s just not the same. If the social isolation weren’t problematic enough, people also felt they were becoming gradually less productive, and they were experiencing reduced engagement and slower decision making.

As you approach your changed workplace, there are some general principles that will give you the best chance of staying mentally healthy over the coming months.

Connect 

It is important to keep in touch with colleagues and your line manager. You don’t need to talk about work, but a quick check-in will help you feel connected. We have all been impacted by the coronavirus in different ways. You may have been bereaved, felt overwhelmed or isolated, or been unwell. If you share this with others they will be better able to help you in the months ahead.

Prepare and Plan

Think about your job and your situation. Does anything need to change to help you do your job well? If you haven’t been told what to expect, ask what provisions have been made to create a safe work environment. It can be helpful to think through what will happen on the first day back after lockdown:

• How will you get to work?

• Will anything be different as you enter the building?

• Who will be there?

• Will you need to do things differently to get your job done?

There is an opportunity for you to identify your work priorities and raise any concerns or questions that you have. Things don’t always come out right first time, so if you have something important you want to talk about, try practicing the conversation with a friend, colleague or family member. This will give you the best chance of getting your thoughts across.

It is important to have regular check-ins with yourself (How am I coping? Could I do more to help stay mentally healthy?) and check-ins with your team and manager (How are we working? Is there anything we could do differently to work better together?). This way you can address issues as they come up and start to plan and prepare for the journey through COVID-19 together.

Everyone is finding their own path and things might not always go to plan. It is important to be kind to yourself and to be kind to others as we all find our way.

Victoria McLean is the Founder & CEO of City CV.  She states ‘The last 18 months have seen one of the biggest cultural shifts in the way we work in recent history. The ‘new normal’ of working from home has caused a huge divide, with some employees favouring their new-found flexibility, and others left feeling isolated, overwhelmed, and fatigued by the Zoom-boom burnout. 

So, as we begin the much-anticipated return to the office, what can be done to create a sense of community in an anxious environment, as well as ensure the promotion of happy, healthy practices? 

These key areas are the most likely to cause stress or anxiety in returning to the office, but we have some suggestions on how to approach and overcome them.

Firstly,is the anxiety of contracting Covid. While the ongoing vaccination scheme seeks to reduce this risk, it’s understandable that some people will be concerned about the lack of social distancing, and therefore the increased risk of catching Covid. It’s essential that businesses recognise and respect this, ensuring employees feel comfortable by providing access to appropriate PPE, facilitating social distancing, and being aware that some employees may feel too self-conscious to admit their concerns. 

Secondly, in the relocation of thousands of employees, businesses were able to overcome and adapt to the logistical challenges of home working. This has enabled people to spend more time doing what they love, avoid commuting congestion, take longer lunches, and reduce costs such as childcare and eating out. It has also meant that many once-necessary procedures have been on hiatus and employees have had more autonomy. In the return to the office, these advantages hang in the balance, and may cause a lack of motivation and frustration if they are reversed.

While not all of these issues can be overcome, businesses may want to consider how they can facilitate flexible working and eliminate processes that haven’t been needed during the pandemic. After all, why bring them back if you’ve found a better way to work?

Thirdly, 48% of people believe they have gained weight and thousands have suffered from poor mental health during lockdown. A subsidised gym membership or organised exercise activity might be welcomed. As well as helping to improve mental health, exercise is also vital for optimum productivity. Other easy-to-implement actions, such as regular check-ins and access to mental health support, could also help.’

We must now take a different view of what the office is used for, but also should be excited about what it can be used for. With reduced footfall comes free floor space which could be used to make the office more of a hub where people come to learn new skills and make well-presented video conference calls, leaving the more focused style of work for the home.

Victoria McLean, founder & CEO of City CV, the UK’s leading career consultancy and outplacement services firm

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