Written by Emily Gent | 27th August 2021

September is back to school, but it might also be back to the office for many workers for the first time since March 2020.

After over a year of rising to new challenges, such as furlough, setting up impromptu home offices or enduring home schooling, getting back to the workplace in time for a new term is a chance for a fresh start.

So, to make the transition as smooth as possible, here are considerations from our team:

Induct people back in

Bringing everyone back together may be a shock to the system for some employees, including those returning after being furloughed or new employees that haven’t met the rest of the team face-to-face.

So to ease everyone in (including employees who have been working remotely) you should hold a ‘reinduction’ either on or before their first day. This would normally cover a ‘welcome back’ meeting and a health and safety briefing on any Covid-related workplace changes (such as any hygiene measures or if masks are encouraged). You may also have changes to company rules and procedures that you will need to communicate with everyone – for example, new policies on flexible working.

Furloughed employees may feel disconnected from the company and their colleagues, and so rebuilding connections and a strong culture should be a priority. Build in time for socialising and the opportunity for one-on-one chats between managers and every employee.

For certain businesses, training or retraining may also be necessary, especially if there is an element to the job which individuals may not have undertaken for some time.

Don’t forget that most people will need ongoing support, not just in those first few days but weeks.

How will you be working

When they return to the workplace, employees will need clarity on how they will be working.

Are you hybrid working? If so, what does it look like? Employees will be asking how many days they are expected to be in the office and what the core hours are if you are giving them the option to work flexibly.

It’s important to note that not everyone in your company has to do the same thing – what might work for one team, and another can be different.

If you are still planning the return to work, you will need to consider the needs and expectations of your team, as after all, how and where they work needs to be formally agreed with and communicated to them in writing.

Psychological safety

Psychological safety is vital when it comes to the return to work, and here it covers the importance of staff feeling comfortable with the way they are being brought back into the office.

1/3 of respondents in a new McKinsey survey said their return to work after the pandemic has had a negative impact on their mental health. And almost half of those who had not yet returned anticipate negative mental health impacts.

As an employer you should prioritise psychological safety alongside physical safety in your post-pandemic workplace, which can help employees’ mental health and your own efforts to cultivate inclusive workplaces.

Two-way communication is essential to ensuring employees feel safe at work – you need to be able to speak to employees and encourage them to share their concerns. Our blog on how to ease return to work anxiety has some helpful suggestions as well as our Wellness Action Planning resource.

Also, vaccines, mask wearing and new Covid strains are all worries that will result in differences of opinion and could lead to issues in the workplace. So having equality and inclusion policies in place is one way to create a psychologically safe workplace environment.

Consider reasonable adjustments

Although the majority of adults in the UK have now been vaccinated, there will still be employees with particular, genuine concerns for their health and safety, especially if they or someone they live with is considered vulnerable.

It’s worth remembering that the government no longer advises shielding for people who are clinically vulnerable to Covid but does encourage employers to make allowances and adjustments for them. These adjustments might be extended home working or reduced hours or days.

There is also lots of evidence that proves people can experience ‘long Covid’, where effects of the virus can last beyond 12 weeks, and sometimes longer. If any of your employees’ experience this, it may be hard for them to get back into work.

You should ensure that your managers and HR team, are sensitive to health and safety concerns and be prepared to make reasonable adjustments. A flexible approach to this will also be useful.

Office space

Simply making physical changes to your office is likely to go a long way to making many employees feel more comfortable about returning to work.

Small, stuffy offices with a lack of facilities are now unpopular as they are seen to have a negative affect physical and mental wellbeing. Workers want to feel they’re safe and looked after by the environment they’re in, as much as by the company they work for. That’s why open, spaces with collaboration areas are so crucial.

Consider what can be done to ensure your office is tailored for the new needs of your workforce – does the current design allow for hybrid working? Also, make employees are aware of any health and safety practices you are adopting before they return, so they are familiar with these.

The return to the office will bring many opportunities for team building, socialising and productivity, but it also may be a big step for many employees. Ultimately, taking the time to carefully plan how you will bring your teams back and focusing on communicating will help ease the transition.

During the return to work process, you may come across challenges – feel free to contact us with any questions you have at [email protected].