A global pandemic and a lockdown. All things considered, the past six months have been strange for everyone, and not least because lots of us had to get to grips with daily remote working. Challenges were inevitable – feeling of isolation, lack of motivation, difficulties finding a balance between our new work and home lives – and some found the shift easier to deal with than others. But as things start to edge back to normal and offices begin to reopen, we’re faced with a new set of anxieties.
Research by Bupa Health Clinics found that 65% of workers in the UK are feeling anxious about returning to the office. Social distancing is a big worry for many, with 42% of respondents raising concerns about being able to stay a safe distance from their colleagues once they’re back in the office. 38% said they were worried about their journey to and from work – walking straight from your bedroom to your home office set-up is a little different from getting on a busy train – while 37% raised concerns about office cleanliness.
The government is encouraging people back to work to get the economy moving again, but these are all very valid reasons to feel apprehensive about going back into the office. And there are other considerations too. While many have missed the workplace buzz, some will have found the move to remote working to be a welcome break from office life. They might work better on their own at home, with no desire or need to return to their workplace, and the prospect of doing so may in itself bring them anxiety.
What employers need to remember is that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution here. No two employees are the same and everyone has their own preferences and circumstances. And when it comes to helping employees deal with their anxieties about going ‘back to normal’ at work, all companies must bear this in mind.
With that said, what’s perhaps most crucial for companies to have is a flexible approach. COVID-19 forced us to be flexible and adaptable with our working practices. The pandemic showed the power of digital and just how much can be done remotely – so it doesn’t really make sense to revert back to a rigid structure of compulsory, full-time office working. Plus, people appreciate having a choice, particularly during such an extraordinary time as this when it’s so important to feel that we can retain some level of control in our lives.
At Organic, we’ve now hired our own office within a co-working space, which up to 10 of us can use at a time so we can maintain social distancing and feel at ease while we get back into the swing of office life. As a creative and close-knit agency, it’s been amazing to get the team back together, be it for meetings and collaborative sessions or just to socialise and enjoy being around our colleagues again.
But we get that some Organic-ers won’t want to use the office quite as much as others – or at all. They might not want to have to commute using public transport. They might feel safer at home for now, or they might just prefer working remotely full-stop. And all of this is totally fine. What matters is that the option is there.
Something else that’s really important is communication. Make sure your employees know what you’re doing to ensure their safety when they do come into the office. This really can be as simple as letting everyone know about the rigorous cleaning schedule that’s in place, or putting up some notices to advise everyone about safety measures and procedures – from using hand gel to putting cutlery straight into the dishwasher. This might sound so simple and obvious, but it can be all that’s needed to put people at ease.
And of course, communication needs to work both ways. Listen to your employees and make sure they feel that they’re able to voice any worries about coming back into the workplace. This partly comes down to company culture, and it’s more important than ever for people to feel that they’re working for the kind of organisation that listens to them, takes their concerns seriously, and prioritises their health and well-being. If that’s not the case then there won’t be an incentive for your employees to come back to the office at all, whether they’ve been feeling anxious about it or not.