After more than a year of enforced remote working, the country is finally on the road to recovery and the end of lockdown restrictions are in (albeit blurry) sight. For some, the idea of getting back to ‘normality’ and once again immersing themselves into their workplaces for the first time in six months couldn’t be more exciting. However, not everyone is as eager.
Inevitably, after such a prolonged period working from home, many of us have become accustomed to the flexibility remote working has offered us. More time to spend time with family, exercising or taking up lost hobbies has meant many employees report that the return to routine, daily commuting and having to resume face-to-face contact fills them with dread, on top of legitimate concerns around health and safety during an ongoing epidemic. So much so that, as reported in Bloomberg, 39 per cent of adults would consider quitting their job if their employers aren't flexible.
So, how can employers help their teams reintegrate themselves back into the workplace smoothly with as little stress as possible?
Allow for a phased return
In 2020, we conducted research into Staff Welfare during the pandemic and found 11 per cent of employees claimed it was ‘a lot harder to work from home’. However, following up on that research this year, now only 5 per cent of employees find it difficult to work from home and 93 per cent of business leaders report they will be offering staff a hybrid model.
With a clear preference for home working, and anxiety around close face-to-face contact, employers should consider implementing a phased return for their staff to ‘soften the blow’ and offer the opportunity to iron out any concerns along the way.
Ensure clear social distancing measures are in place
A study by OnePoll found 50 per cent of employees want social distancing between desks.
As per government guidelines, employers are required to create a Covid-safe environment for their staff.
Social distancing measures should be part of a company’s risk assessment and is one of the steps needed to make workplaces safe and compliant. Using floor tape to indicate two-metre gaps, organising one-way routes and providing signage to remind staff to social distance keeps employees’ health and safety as a top priority whilst giving them peace of mind when they return.
Implement sanitising stations
Employers have a duty to keep their employees out of harm, including the Covid-19 virus. As we all know, washing our hands, sanitising and cleaning surfaces regularly keeps the virus at bay.
A study by OnePoll found more than half of British employees would be happy to never return to the office due to fears of germs, with 27 per cent concerned around colleagues not using hand sanitiser or soap, and 27 per cent worried around the lack of communal cleaning. 56 per cent employees have reported that they would like their employer to implement sanitising pumps.
Have regular 1:1 contact with staff to listen to questions or concerns
In times of crisis, regular communication is key. Creating a supportive and understanding environment where employees feel comfortable to air their concerns will positively benefit long-term productivity and retention levels. Regular one-to-one meetings with senior management to discuss potential anxieties will help to keep people at ease and mitigate potential issues.
Be patient and treat employees with kindness
The past year and a half has been difficult to say the least. The pandemic has undoubtedly had a profound impact on peoples’ mental health, with 42.5 per cent of organisations appointing mental health first aiders for staff. Therefore, above anything, the importance to be patient and treat employees with kindness can be the most impactful, and lead to higher job satisfaction.
In research by the University of California, results found kindness has a ‘positive ripple effect’ and random acts of kindness can act like a ‘buffer’ in stressful working situations. Being patient with staff whilst encouraging them to be patient with one another during this uncertain and nerve-wrecking time can calm workforces and allow for a smoother return to ‘normal’.
As the nation gets ready to return to the workplace at least on a hybrid basis, it’s important for employees and employers alike to work together to nurture safe and comfortable workplaces that will build stronger and more resilient workforces.