In February Boris Johnson said that commuters could expect a return to in-office work in just a few short months. The prime minister continued by saying that, “The British people will be consumed once again with their desire for genuine face-to-face meeting that makes all the difference to the deal or whatever it is.”
This confidence is in stark contrast to reports that show that 83% of UK workers fear returning to the office. Currently, almost all of the UK’s major employers say that they do not plan to revert back to a full-time office setup, but nonetheless, employees are wary of the increased exposure of going to the office a few times a week.
If your organisation is considering asking your teams to return to office work, consider these ways of alleviating post-COVID anxiety.
Acknowledge Their Feelings
The Health and Safety Executive reported that 828,000 respondents said they felt greater stress and depression in 2020 due to work, which is significantly higher than years prior. This translates to a whopping 79% of employed British adults. However, The Harvard Business Review notes that more than 60% of employees feel uncomfortable talking to others about mental health. Whether this is because of shame or confusion, not addressing these feelings can result in a bigger meltdown in the future.
So, the sooner that you can catch up with your employees and listen to what they have to say the better. You can start the conversation about sharing your own worries, COVID-19-related or not. A stiff upper lip on your end will look cold rather than strong. Remember that you aren’t there to judge but rather to learn. If they would feel more comfortable with another manager or an HR staff, offer this option as well.
Be Flexible with Your Arrangements
Over half of UK businesses are planning to offer flexible remote working setups for their employees, with some looking to adopt a hybrid work model. These are supposed to provide a happy compromise between businesses trying to recover and workers wary of the virus.
But it’s important to note that flexible work arrangements look different per person. A straight 8-hour day may work for one person, while another will prefer to split their work hours up. Given the fact that the pandemic has affected almost every sector of life, it’s likely that numerous personal factors affect a person’s productivity and availability. In a report on the impact of COVID-19, Verizon Connect suggests promoting workplace safety by providing staff with hardware and personal protective equipment whenever possible. For example, face-to-face visits can be adjusted to online consultations. By offering “safer” choices, you are showing your respect and care for your team.
Offer Relief and Support Initiatives
The pandemic took a toll on everyone. Whether that is monetarily, physically, or emotionally, we could all use some help. For instance, companies like Google and Intel have shown that offering mindfulness programmes helped decrease stress and increase overall wellness. In your company, try to offer a myriad of both group and private programmes. Some may feel more comfortable with others, while others would prefer privacy. You could start by giving general benefits such as paying for workout or meditation apps like Headspace. You could also schedule extra brain breaks in your company planner. You could even offer some financial aid, should you be able to cover it.
Be sensitive to your team’s unique circumstances and think of ways to best help. For instance, an article by Mark Probert points to research stating that most mothers are forced to combine paid work with other activities. In their case you must provide extra support through more flexible working arrangements.
Working in a pandemic is hard as it is. Though it may be long before all our anxieties get fully appeased, leaders can significantly boost morale in trying times. An organisation build on trust and compassion will fare far better in the transition to the new normal.