As vaccine rollout begins to reach wider audiences and more employers start to think about and/or begin the transition back to the office, there are many concerns and fears about what the future of office work will look like. Whether due to the continued fear of contracting COVID-19 -0after months of social isolation or anxieties about re-entering society, anxiety around returning to work is being felt among employees everywhere.
As companies begin the transition from remote work back to offices, there are many steps employers can take to help ease employees' fears. Here are four tips we recommend to help reduce return-to-office anxiety:
1. Help Manage Anxiety Around Returning to the Office
There's no doubting that individuals are nervous about returning to the office after a year of isolation. A SHRM survey reports that most workers feel "moderately comfortable" (39 percent) or "very comfortable" (17 percent) about returning to the workplace, 31 percent have said they are not comfortable with returning. While many employees are ready to return to the office, they still have some concerns about what that will look like.
Leaders can help ease employees' concerns by creating a safe space to discuss them. Send out an email or survey asking employees to share (anonymously if they prefer) their concerns about returning to the in-person environment. Speak with them about these concerns and consider them. Explain what the company is doing to make the transition easier and what steps are being taken to ensure employees will have robust support systems in place within the office. By showing your employees that you have an open ear to their anxieties and helping them through it, you can ease concerns about returning to the office.
2. Have Proper Health Measures in Place
Even as more people begin to get the vaccine, it is essential to remember that we are still in the middle of a global pandemic. As employees return to the office, it is crucial to have measures set up to keep everyone healthy. According to the CDC, these guidelines should look like:
- Encouraging employees to stay home if they have any symptoms or have tested positive for COVID-19.
- Wear a mask in public settings, especially in environments where people are not able to be 6-feet apart.
- Social distance in shared spaces--maintain at least 6 feet of distance between individuals whenever indoors.
- Encourage employees to wash/sanitize hands regularly and to cover their mouths and nose with tissues or the inside of their elbow.
- Discourage sharing objects and equipment amongst employees. If this is not possible, be sure to clean and disinfect before and after use.
Other measures that employers can take to stay safe include taking temperatures before entering the workplace, regularly cleaning and sanitizing the office, and adding plexiglass shields between desks or other shared office spaces.
3. Give employees options
While management might be ready for employees to return to the office, it is likely that not all employees are prepared to return or even want to return to the office setting. It is important to remember that all of us have suffered the pandemic's trauma and are dealing with it differently. Many have lost loved ones to the pandemic, contracted COVID themselves, or suffered other life-changing events over the last year. Plus, if this past year has taught us anything, most jobs can be done from home thanks to technology. Care Computers article on the pros and cons of hybrid working models states that once businesses are able to return to their office spaces again, the working world will begin to combine office and remote work to create a flexible hybrid model that will be welcomed by many.
As your office reopens, consider giving employees the option to return to the office or continue working from home. While most employees will most likely be ready to return to the office, this will help ease the fears of those not prepared to return. Remind them that they are not alone in their anxieties or experiences and encourage them to speak with their team leaders about available options. Once the vaccine is available to more people, you might see a rise in employees wanting to return. But until then, giving employees options allows them to better transition back into office life and feel supported by the company.
4. Offer mental health resources
We are all experiencing a collective trauma. Nothing could have prepared us for the events of the past year. Just as many were starting to grasp working from home, they now have to prepare to return to the office. The stress and challenges of the past year are still weighing heavy on individuals. As employees begin to return to work, be sure to offer mental health resources to help. Encourage employees to find healthy ways to cope, such as taking meditation breaks and (safely) connecting with their coworkers. Offer a list of sources they can turn to in times of heightened stress or anxiety, such as HowRightNow or the CDC's Coping with Stress website.
Be honest with employees about your own experiences and fears so that they will feel comfortable speaking with you and others about any anxieties or experiences of their own. Reach out to your health insurance companies, see what options they have for treating mental health, and share this information with employees who might need professional help. If you use team messaging programs such as Slack or Microsoft Teams, create a channel where employees can share their tips and tricks for dealing with stress and anxiety.
The past year has certainly been a new experience for all of us. It is hard to prepare for what a return to the office will look like. As companies begin transitioning from telework back into the office, it is essential to show empathy and patience and communicate your plan. By being patient, honest, and upfront with your employees about any concerns and working to ease any anxiety around returning, you can help employees make a much easier transition back into office life.