Returning to Work
For many of us in the U.K, today will mark just over a week since lockdown measures allowed workers who are unable to work at home to return to work under Covid-19 conditions, including; maintaining social distancing where possible and wearing homemade PPE on public transport.
This time will surely provide its own challenges for both those returning to work and employers wanting to ensure the health and safety of its staff, whilst re-adjusting to remote teams coming together for the first time in almost 2 months. This article will provide insight into what those returning to work may be feeling and things for leadership to consider before their teams return to work.
Back to School...
It’s ok to be nervous. The truth is that lockdown, whilst intended to save lives, has greatly impacted the livelihoods of both businesses and its employees. With the lockdown measures easing, many will be quick to get back to work or to get back to employment as soon as possible. It’s therefore important to understand what an individual may be thinking on their first day back. Things to consider are:
- A loss of Confidence - After an extended period away from work, many individuals may feel anxious towards completing tasks they used to do. They may second guess their skills and look to others for reassurance that they are doing things right.
- A loss in Skills - Similar to confidence, those returning to work for the first time after a period of absence may feel their quality of work will be below their normal standard. They will need to reacquaint themselves with their workspace and tasks, meaning an adjustment period may cause a temporary dip in their quality of work as they build their skills back up.
- The isolation and disconnection from work - Considering your workplace, you may have gone from being surrounded by your colleagues all day, every day, to complete isolation for longer than you’re used. We have seen this impact a person’s ability to communicate with others, their motivation to be productive and they may struggle to remain focused for long periods.
- Physical and Mental Condition - It’s important to note that during a term of absence, individuals may have undergone drastic changes to their physical condition such as pregnancy, illness, surgery or major lifestyle change. Beyond what we can see with our own eyes, an individual’s mental health may be affected by anxiety for example now that they are returning to the workplace in close proximity with other people outside their household for the first time in a long time.
With your teams returning to the office, they will be looking to you for direction and reassurance that they will be safe integrating with others for the first time in months. Here are a few things to consider both before and during teams returning to work:
- Be Realistic - For the business to continue, is it absolutely essential for the team to return to the office? Could the majority continue to work from home and a small percentage be brought in?
- ‘Crowd Control’ - Linked to the previous point, consider how you can maintain social distancing within the workplace. Smaller numbers will make it easier to control, review and implement changes prior to the entire workforce returning.
- Feelings towards each other - During lockdown there have been two types of individuals, those placed on furlough and those who have been working hard behind the scenes to keep businesses running. For the sake of harmony, advise those that have been on furlough to avoid ‘bragging’ about what they have done or not done during lockdown to avoid potential conflict with others.
- Health and Safety - You will need to be absolutely clear with your teams on the Health and Safety measures put in place, what you will be responsible for and what your team - as individuals - will be responsible for. Some topics to consider would be social distancing, alternative transport, PPE, hand sanitiser etc.
- Engagement - More than ever, communication will be vital to ensure that those returning to work know exactly what is expected of them. It is important that you ask your team for regular feedback, suggested improvements or approaches that could be considered and taken.
- Reasonable Adjustments - Whilst putting everyone returning to work inside a plastic bubble might sound like a good idea, it’s not reasonable. Make sure that the appropriate measures have been taken to improve the health and safety of your teams. If a team member makes a suggestion which is not reasonable, it’s important to show empathy so that they don’t feel their idea is not being taken seriously but to also be factual and assertive in your response as to why this cannot happen.
It’s important to take into consideration the perspective of those returning to work and what leadership should consider prior to their teams being back in the office. By doing this, you can begin to map out and create an effective plan which can be communicated to your teams.
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