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Back To Blog > From Couch to Commute: Help your employees with the back-to-work transition


This post is by Anthony Savage of Sparta Health

We are currently facing a situation unlike anything we have ever experienced before: Going back to work amidst a global pandemic. And, if we're honest with ourselves, the mere thought of that is hugely stressful.

As stated on Explore-Life, 'the workplace can often be an environment of high pressure and stress... and this can be a contributing factor to mental ill health.'1 This is true now more than ever. According to Sarah Clayton and Anthea Hoyle in an article for the Harvard Business Review, 'nearly half of employees are concerned that their employers will bring them back to work before it's safe'2. They further explain that if leadership roles neglect to address 'these sources of anxiety’2 and don't aid mental and workplace health, 'bringing people back to work will do little to help companies return to pre-COVID productivity and engagement levels.'2

Your employees will turn to you for guidance and reassurance; it is imperative to make the transition from couch to commute as stress-free as possible.

Plan

First and foremost, you must have a solid, detailed back-to-work plan. And, of course, share this with your staff. It is essential that they feel confident in your strategy and that their health is your top priority. It would be best if you created a protocol for:

  • 'Employees clocking in and out
  • Break room and cafeteria activity
  • Desk spacing and the office layout
  • Antibacterial and handwashing stations
  • Sanitary and hygiene precautions
  • Maximum people allowed in conference rooms
  • Staggered and alternating work schedules for departments' 3

Co-founder and COO of Chargebacks911, Monica Eaton-Cardone, states that one option 'would be having employees or departments alternating days between working from home and being in the office'3. Eaton-Cardone also suggests a 'partial return'3, which would consist of each department coming into work one or two at a time, so as not to have more people than necessary in the building.

For many people, remote working has been possible and successful. Francis Churchill quotes a poll, stating that '54 per cent of 18 to 24 year-olds and 52 per cent of 25 to 49 year-olds' argued that workers should not return to their workplace4. It seems that those who have been working remotely are in favour of remaining as such. So, don't feel as though you have to rush everyone back if it does not appear safe to do so.

Whatever your back-to-work strategy is, make sure to stick to it and share it with your staff. You know what's best for your company, trust your gut instinct.

Communicate

Communication is critical in any situation, but especially right now. Clayton and Hoyle state that 'employees who regularly receive updates from their companies are more likely to have positive views of their employers'2. 55% are more likely to be 'proud to work for their companies' and 43% are more likely to 'look forward to going back to work'2.

Your staff will rely on you to keep them in the loop. Even if you feel the only update you have is tedious or obvious, your employees will want to know. It's easier than you think to go radio silent accidentally, so make a conscious effort to communicate.

Safety First

The government guidelines are available to you for a reason. Draw from them and implement as much as you feel is necessary for your company. If you must have your staff back in the workplace, there are numerous modifications you could make to establish a safe back-to-work transition:

  • ‘Let your staff travel to work at quieter times of the day
  • Make sure that staff stay at least 2 metres apart in your workplace’5
  • ‘Carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment
  • Provide plenty of hand sanitiser
  • Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces that are touched regularly
  • Provide screens or barriers to separate people from each other
  • Stagger arrival and departure times’6

You can find more regulations on the government website. Essentially, just make sure everyone social distances, that they regularly sanitise their hands, and ideally have them all wear a mask, too.

Empathise

This transition is going to be intense for a lot of people. Some of your employees may have lost loved ones because of COVID. Some may live alone, and the adjustment to social interaction after six months of isolation will inevitably take a toll. As summed up by Heidi Lynne Kurter, 'everyone's situation is different and this needs to be taken into consideration’3. She goes on to say that 'trust and empathy should be the foundation at which employers shift their employees back into the workplace'3. If you are open and honest about how you feel being back at work during the pandemic, it will encourage your staff to follow suit.

Support

Last, but by no means least, support your employees. Their, and your, mental health could seriously be affected by the back-to-work transition. As one in a leadership role, you must ensure your staff have good mental and workplace health. Not only now, but in the future too.

Normalise the need to ask for help and make your team feel that they can talk to you about any issues they may be having. Ensure that you are approachable, provide your staff with resources about mental health, and perhaps even implement a check-in system once a week or so. By ‘checking-in' and asking them how they are genuinely doing, you will cultivate an open, positive work environment. By providing your staff with that weekly opportunity to vent, your team will have less stress on their shoulders and will likely perform better at work.

Unfortunately, there is no handbook for dealing with the couch to commute transition, nor is there one for working during a pandemic. But hopefully, this brief guide will give you the best tools available to help you and your employees adjust to being back at work, as well as creating a more positive, open work environment.

About Anthony Savage 

Anthony Savage is the Medical Services Manager at Sparta Health, having joined the team in 2017 and is responsible for the overall operational delivery of our high quality services to our clients. He has a solid background in workplace physiology, as well over 12 years of delivering, and holding senior management positions, for leading injury and condition management providers.

He is known for his innovative approach in his design and execution of services and his ability to build enduring relationships.

References:

  1. Explore Life. Wellbeing at Work [Internet]. Explore Life.
  2. Clayton S, Hoyle A. Help Your Employees Manage Their Reentry Anxiety [Internet]. Harvard Business Review. 2020 [cited 2020 Sep 4].
  3. Kurter HL. How To Bring Employees Back To The Office Without Damaging Company Culture [Internet]. Forbes. 2020 [cited 2020 Sep 4].
  4. Churchill F. Majority of public in favour of continued working from home, poll finds [Internet]. People Management. 2020 [cited 2020 Sep 4].
  5. Citizens Advice. Coronavirus - if you’re worried about working [Internet]. [cited 2020 Sep 4].
  6. Gov.uk. 5 steps to working safely - Working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19) - Guidance - GOV.UK [Internet].
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