This is a guest post written for the Ronspot Desk and Parking Manager Blog by Roisìn Nì Mheacair from the MABS who was worked throughout the pandemic.
2020 was a very difficult year. Globally many offices closed their doors in March 2020, and employees were facilitated to work from home out of necessity, as a response to the COVID- 19 pandemic. This required an enormous shift in thinking for both employers and staff, as to how service delivery could continue with as little impact to the customers as possible throughout the contagion. More people experienced stress and worry as a result of the pandemic. Everyone was affected by this, and it became useful to reflect on the need to work together, for a common purpose, even if staff were forced to stay apart.
In order to support the remote workforce, it required a new system of daily operation. The temptation to micromanage staff was strong due to the initial lack of visibility on staff’s output. However, trust in staff proved vitally important, and was rewarded by increased production. Daily support to employees, with honest and authentic communication about issues arising became fundamental. Uncertainty leads to anxiety, and flexible responses tailored to individuals need’s (where possible) became a priority.
Morale can suffer when staff are in isolation at home, so the facilitation of opportunities to maintain social contact, and harnessing all the available technologies became essential e.g. in the use of Zoom, MSTeams, What’sApp etc. becoming the norm to communicate virtually.
The Introduction of Hybrid Working
Huge transitions have occurred as a society in the last few months. With most offices closed, employees were tasked with setting up desks at home, often times juggling busy workloads with parenting/caring demands. Now, as lockdown measures start to ease, some workplaces are beginning to reopen. And though many people will look forward to getting back into a familiar routine, there’ll no doubt be challenges along the way. It’s natural to feel anxiety around returning to a world post-Covid, and a recent study by Trinity College, Dublin has found that many people are experiencing anxiety as society ‘re-opens’.
A HSE spokesperson said: “Covid-19 has impacted referrals to the National Counselling Service (NCS). While there was an initial drop in referrals at the beginning of the pandemic, more people are now seeking counselling as a result of anxiety and stress associated with the pandemic”.
As Employers, How Can We Help Staff Return to the Offices Safely?
Change can often provoke anxiety, and many staff have encountered enormous change over the last 18 months in both their private and professional lives. Returning to work post pandemic will pose challenges.
A return to the office environment can generate new worries for staff, and it is totally normal that staff may feel apprehensive. In fact psychologists agree that anxiety is future-based i.e. the person worries about something that might happen. A planned return to the office by the employer, communicating with their staff every step of the way, can reduce these anxieties and reassure staff.
The employer now faces the challenge to replace what the ‘new normal’ has become i.e. working from home, (where, however cramped and uncomfortable it may be, feels ‘safe’ to staff), with an office environment that needs to feel equally as safe, but also incorporates the positives of office life.
Hybrid arrangements where staff can come in to the office on different days as required, can be planned and managed in consultation with staff, harnessing new technologies e.g. Ronspot Desk Manager management tools. Remember for staff, they may be returning to workplaces that may not feel familiar anymore. To help with this transition, there are a number of processes that can be very useful to employ before and when staff return to their offices.
Staff may be anxious at this re-entry to the workplace for two reasons. The first (and most prevalent) cause concerns safety. People are anxious that they may unknowingly contract COVID-19 or possibly spread it. These concerns can be planned for by the employer and mitigated.
Steps to how to make the Office safe:
To make returning to work post pandemic that bit easier for employees, follow these key steps:
- Communicate to staff about how the workspace will be adapted and how returning staff will move around it
- Have a robust, updated COVID-19 work policy
- Health and Safety Assessments of the Office environment, which clearly signpost safe distances to be maintained between staff members
- Availability of masks and personal protective equipment (where appropriate) for all staff
- Provision of screens between closed spaces
- Have a Hot desking service in place. This will reassure staff prior to coming back in to the office, that the desk spaces are being managed to optimise a safe hybrid working arrangement
- Maintain communication between management and staff to reassure staff constantly. Remember, when people worry, it is typically related to uncertainties or the unknown. Through careful planning and communication of these plans, staff will be comforted to know their concerns are being addressed in advance.
- Allow staff time to get back to ‘normal’ on their first day back at work. The new routine may take some time to bed in.
- If the office has been vacant for a year, it may need some refreshing. In addition, thorough cleaning prior to staff’s return is essential.
- Perhaps adding some new pictures may make the office look nice and pleasant. A pleasing, clean and organized environment is good for employee’s mental health. Being in one can also help reduce staff’s stress level, particularly the cortisol hormone level (the stress hormone).
- Perhaps add some greenery, scatter some plants within the office environment. Research indicates that plants help reduce stress levels at the office and increase productivity by 15%.
Making Your Staff Feel Safe
The second concern that returning staff may have is around social interactions. Over the past year, we have been social distancing. Many people may have lost practice of how to meet with people in person. Even just the basics of looking them in the eyes and engage in everyday chitchat. Remind staff that office life has the benefit of;
- Seeing your co-workers, engaging with them and sharing any work related concerns
- Having a specific place where you can focus on your job related responsibilities
- Closing the office door at the end of the day and ‘leaving it all behind you’
Understanding the Challenge
Staff are facing a challenge by returning to the ‘new normal’ working arrangements. Recognising this challenge is the first step to ensuring a smooth transition.
Ultimately, by careful planning, preparation and communication, in tandem with harnessing the developing technologies to support staff, returning to work post pandemic in offices can be achieved with minimal fuss to garner optimal outputs.
These changes may result in greater flexibility by employers for staff. Resulting in increased staff morale and the potential to increase productivity. Overall, making the return to work post pandemic that bit easier.