The COVID-19 home straight and returning to the workplace
Over the past year, companies have been forced to explore various ways to keep employees connected and collaborating as remote work becomes an ongoing reality. The pandemic has had many implications for employees as they manage illness, grief, isolation, anxiety and stress demands. When your team of employees are forced to work remotely for weeks, months and potentially for the best part of the last year, periodic meetings and emails may have been enough to stay connected, but, as we approach the possibility of another major change, it’s important to plan for any return to the workplace to ensure a smooth transition for employees that safeguards their health and wellbeing.
In January 2021, the UK entered into another national lockdown which meant that everyone who can effectively work from home must do so. It has now been nearly two months since these all-too-familiar restrictions were imposed and once again, many will have found their rhythm of getting through another working week from their living-room. The government has now outlined its roadmap to begin easing lockdown in England from March 2021 and the devolved nations are setting out their plans and whilst it finally seems like there is some light at the end of the tunnel, the thought of returning to the workplace could be daunting for many employees.
With so much disruption from the pandemic, people’s expectations around work, how they fulfil their role, and how they reconcile work and domestic responsibilities may have changed dramatically and thus at the heart of any plans to return to work when necessary, should be a commitment to support the physical and mental health for workers who may be concerned about being in the workplace or travelling there. This is an ideal time for employers to think more creatively about effective ways of integrating social working again, and harness more agile and flexible working practices to meet individuals’ changing expectations. For example, a flexible approach could help employers develop more effective people management practices, resulting in improved productivity.
It must be remembered that regardless of whether your employees have been in and out the workplace, the length of COVID is wearing on people, especially to those who are overwhelmed or socially disconnected. Employees are experiencing various degrees of impact. Some have thrived; others have struggled and this must be seriously considered when deciding the best way to integrate your employees back into normal working conditions. Being there for employees and creating a culture of empathy means giving them flexibility and support and so, as we navigate this new employee experience, we must shape a productive and vibrant culture that empowers employees to do their best work.