In some areas of the world we are approaching “the end” of the pandemic. It's not really the end, but it may be the end of working from home full-time for some companies. So how do we go back to a “normal” work life that hasn’t been normal for over a year? As an HR administrator, manager, or just an employee yourself there are things you can do to make this transition easier.
Some folks will be ecstatic to escape the same four walls they’ve been staring at for over a year, but it’s likely other people have appreciated the benefits of working from home. For some people it’ll be a happy return to normalcy, while for others it’ll be a tough transition.
While returning to work may seem daunting, this is actually a great time to implement changes or reset your office culture. What things have you been wanting to change? Everyone coming back can be a clean slate—especially new hires who have never been in the office. This is the perfect time to initiate policies you’ve already been thinking about—or to consider some new ideas.
Prioritize mental health.
As hard as it was adjusting to working remotely, it’s going to be similarly difficult adjusting to coming back to work for some people. Transition periods are stressful. Period. Even if you’re transitioning to something good. It wasn’t a couple of weeks of working from home, it was enough to form routines and habits. Depending who you ask, it takes 18 to 254 days to form a habit and we’re well past that. Working from home has become the new way of life, and people have developed habits...whether it’s cooking lunch from their own kitchen or wearing sweatpants every day.
Acknowledge that it’s hard.
There is a strong desire to return to normal, but just because we’re back in the office it doesn’t mean it’s 2019 all over again. Start with the simple step of acknowledging that the transition may be hard for people. Communicate with your people as much as possible. Have managers communicate with their teams to see what they need to make the transition as smooth as possible.
After months of pandemic life your employees are going to be burnt out in some way. It’s been exhausting socially, economically, physically, and emotionally for individuals and for communities as a whole. So the key now (and always) is understanding individual needs and allowing for flexibility. People have more or less been able to control their environment while working from home. Flexible hours and flexible accommodations will help people transition back into the office. Let employees know you care about their mental health. Let them know it’s okay to take off time or work flexible hours so they can go to appointments or take care of their families as needed.
Accommodate diverse needs.
While it may be inconvenient with unstable internet connections, video freezing, and people forgetting they’re on mute, allowing people to work remotely increases accessibility. Remote work evens the playing field for people with disabilities. This is important for increasing diversity at your company and providing opportunities for qualified employees that just need some simple accommodations to be able to do their job.
There are even financial benefits of hiring people with disabilities. They bring valuable perspective and employers that accommodate disabilities see a significant increase in retention. As much as you’re financially able to, create productive, adaptable workspaces for all employees. Ask them if they learned anything new during the pandemic about how they work best, and encourage them to keep up any healthy habits they developed as well as they can while working from the office.
Boosting mental health at work doesn’t have to cost money.
Maybe your company took a financial hit and doesn’t have much to offer as far as compensation. One thing you can do is acknowledge how hard the transition might be and appreciate all the work they’re doing. Something as simple as a short note can improve morale. Regular recognition creates a culture of positivity i.e. a work environment where people will want to show up.
Commuting is kind of the worst.
Will we see an increase in grumpiness now that people have to commute again? Nothing ruins the mood like running late because you’re stuck in traffic. Also, some of us, like the person writing this, have forgotten exactly how much time it takes to get ready to leave the house in the morning. So consider some leniency as people get back into their routine of commuting. But there are positives to commuting too. Coming into the office makes it easier to leave work at work and can improve work-life balance. Just know that some people may need a little leniency as they deal with the stress of busy morning and unpredictable traffic.
Keep washing your hands!
But really. Some of the hygiene tips we’ve learned from the outbreak of a global pandemic shouldn’t be forgotten. Stay home when you’re sick. Avoid close contact (or any contact) with other employees when sick and wash your hands often.
Not only do these physical precautions keep people from getting sick, they can really ease the mind of people who have anxiety about the spread of disease. Germaphobes are often stereotyped as someone who is uptight, but it’s a real thing to consider and it’s certain that many people have different expectations about sanitation going forward. Establishing policies for how often things are cleaned or encouraging people to stay home when sick will set people’s minds at ease.
Every body is different.
It may be a great time to initiate a wellness program. Instead of a corporate weight loss program (they rarely work) try encouraging employees to set unique health goals. Are there any habits they formed that they can continue to keep up? Maybe they can still take a walk on their lunch break or continue to eat home cooked meals (it just might take some extra prep work). As people make goals that fit their lifestyles, they’re more likely to stick to them.
Pro tip: You can create wellness programs in Awardco to specifically incentivize and reward employees for hitting their personal health goals.
Human interaction is good, trust us.
One aspect worth celebrating about the return to the office is the positive social interactions. As managers, encourage team interactions and creative collaboration. We might all be a little awkward at first as we come out of the era of social distancing, but it is also an exciting time to be reunited and even meet those people you’ve never met face-to-face. So get ready and get excited for the moment you get to flash your maskless smile and say, “Welcome back!”