After 18 months of a pandemic lockdown we are all left with so many questions, one of the main ones being: what will it be like going back to the office? As we transition out of lockdown and back into the office/workplace, there’s a whole lot to think about.
This pandemic has affected us all in different ways, and it’s only normal to feel uncertain about what the future holds. Most are feeling confused and apprehensive about the changes around them. Is it safe to go back? Will everyone be going back? Is there a thought-out plan? Can we go back gradually? Do we even need to go back?
Many small businesses are exploring new hybrid working arrangements, but everyone’s situation is unique. As you approach your shift into the new normal, here is a guide for both the team leaders and members over the coming months.
For the Founders and Leaders
Mental Health First
More than ever, we are starting to understand the severity of mental health. In periods of stress, and let’s just use a viral global pandemic as an example, we make adjustments to manage the stressors within our control.
Anxiety is a place that looks for problems.
Of course, the pandemic has given us ample reasons to worry about our safety. But identifying moments when you or your employees appear to have anxiety symptoms, labelling it can help the person feel more in control of what happens next. Signs come in all different forms, including:
- Trouble sleeping
- Feeling weak or tired
- Feeling nervous, restless or tense
- Trouble concentrating or thinking
So, how do you avoid anxiety coming back to the office with your employees? Don’t try to go from 1 to 100 on your first day back at work, this goes for everyone. Keep things simple at first so that no one becomes overwhelmed. As humans, we can find change challenging, so you won’t be alone in dealing with anxiety about going back to work following lockdown.
No matter what information you have to present, what accommodations you can and can’t make, and what policies you may have to enforce, do it all with compassion. It’s often an antidote to anxiety.
Plan It. Practice It.
Unfortunately, we all know we aren’t going back to what we left. We’re going into a new normal, and new can be scary, especially when it’s tied to your health and safety. Remember, your customers and staff are your top priority. Focus on making sure your employees feel comfortable and safe coming back to work is essential. As small business owners, this may cause some anxiety (take some deep breaths), but focus on these areas:
Guidelines are Good
Make sure you are following the correct guidelines. Provide them adequately with the proper PPE equipment, so they feel safe and comfortable. And when it comes to hand sanitizer, more is more! Have some readily available in high-traffic areas and throughout the space.
Hygiene = Happy
Pandemic aside, we all should have been offering cleanliness. It’s essential to make certain areas of frequent contact are routinely sanitized. A tidy work environment can also help you keep focused and increase productivity.
I’m just going to say it, this needed to happen even before this pandemic. A stuffy office can cause drowsiness and poor concentration. Try and keep your workspace well ventilated, opening windows where possible and allowing a breeze through.
If you weren’t following and implementing this before, it’s an absolute must to start. The benefits of just 15 minutes outside can help your physical and mental health spend some of your working days outdoors. As well as reducing stress and improving your mood, productivity, and it can also boost your immune system.
Hybrid Is The Future
One of my life mottos is, it’s all about balance. People need balance, and that includes their work life. I won’t get started on the argument of the whole five-day workweek, but let’s just say many people realized that working from home can be productive, and they don’t need to spend Monday to Friday in the office.
So what happens after lockdown and what could this period mean for returning to the workplace? Will many of us return to the 9-5 of office life? Or will remote working become the norm?
Hybrid working seems to suit many people and small businesses. Various surveys have suggested that many workers are keen on the idea of working from home (WFH) at least some of the time. But of course, not every company, role, or employee will be in the position to work from home or have a flexible schedule. However, for an increasing number of us, a mix of remote and office work could be the new normal.
A recent survey found that 58% of people say they would look for a new job if they couldn’t continue working remotely in their current position.
And, I don’t blame them. Do you?
Your employees had to adapt to the changes this pandemic brought on and still managed to adjust and continue doing their job, and well at that. This pandemic has proved that people don’t need to go into the office every day to be superior employees. Employees do not have to be together in an office five days a week to do their jobs well.
Remember that stress feeds on productivity, so bringing your employees back into the office too often or too soon may backfire and leave you looking for new hires.
This new normal might be a hard pill to swallow for some companies, and many still believe that work must be done in the workplace, but I would encourage executives to consider the above instead. You might be pleasantly surprised by the outcome of adapting to the new normal, rather than fighting against it.
Expect The Unexpected
The unexpected is precisely why we are where we are now. No matter what type of small business you manage, we have all had to adapt due to the unexpected quickly. I can already hear you. I know, how can you really expect something, well, that’s unexpected? In all honesty, you can’t, but you can prepare for it as much as possible.
Now, preparing varies based on your industry, but here are a few central areas for small businesses to focus on when trying to outsmart the big problems that may (hopefully not) meet us in the future.
I always say, hope for the best, plan for the worst. It’s gotten me pretty far in my life so far.
For the Team Members
Set Your Speed
Ultimately, the end of this pandemic will be filled with many and mixed emotions for everyone. Now if you take only one thing away from this article, make it this – you MUST take some time out for self-care.
Self-care looks different for everyone, so, unfortunately, we don’t have one golden answer. For some, it’s dancing, others it’s drawing, and sometimes it’s just as simple as saying no. Learn different ways that resonate with you the most for your self-care. Make sure you’re kind to yourself to help you feel happy and productive.
Also no matter what, don’t feel like you are rushed out of your comfort. I can’t stress enough that we have all been through so much change and loss so there is no room for any more unnecessary change or stress.
Many people find it helpful to know how their return to work is going to go. Think about your new commute, staying protected while you’re there, and what you’re planning for your lunch and breaks. Again, this can help take out some of the uncertainty of going back to work, allowing you to ease back into the new normal.
Ask For Support
You are not alone, and I hate to break it to you, but no one can do it alone. Understanding and accepting this will be everything. Know that your employers are there for you. Speak up. Let them know that you have concerns about your return to work after lockdown, there’s a good chance they have a plan in play. Also if they don’t know how you feel about going back to the office, they won’t know how to help.
Though please keep in mind, your employer may not have all the answers, especially if it’s around your mental health, which is best for professionals. As mentioned early, anxiety and stress can take over your life, especially if left alone. If you’re concerned about your mental health when emerging from lockdown, there are many options to help manage.
Now it’s tough to shine a light on a crisis that took so much away from us, but sometimes that is the only thing you can. We need to support each other as businesses re-open and also people and move forward with a new perceptive.
We learned a lot during this pandemic. We implemented a new normal that focuses on what is best for employees and their employers focusing on the positives. We helped battle the negatives with a hybrid solution, or by telling ourselves how fun in-office work can be.
With such a massive impact on the world, we all need to mend, slowly and correctly, to benefit even a little from this pandemic. Returning to work after lockdown will be a challenge, but just look back at what we all survived. It’s important to remember that many of us have continued working throughout the pandemic, so we all have a part to play in getting back to our better and new normal.