Preparing for a Return to Work After Lockdown

Introduction

Wherever you stand on it, working from home has become the norm for many over the last year.

But with lockdown finally (sort off) easing, organisations are eyeing a gradual resumption of routine business, possibly from the end of July.

Whether you are relishing or dreading the prospect, there are some steps staff across the organisation can take to make sure the process goes smoothly.

With this in mind, how should those in charge approach the return to work?

Below are some tips.

Communicate clearly1. People need time to be able to plan and get used to the idea of when and how they will go back to work.
2. Make sure you are consistent in your messaging and that your team know you are thinking of their welfare.
Be mindful of different tensions1. Some staff have been at work throughout and have made a safe environment that they feel happy in.
2. All of a sudden you will have an influx of people coming in from outside.
3. Meanwhile others have stayed in their bubbles at home for a long time.
4. Some might be a bit gung-ho in their approach to Covid safety measures and others are more rigid.
5. All of these areas can lead to friction.
Be open to new ways of working1. People will have relied more on technology than face-to-face meetings.
2. Coming back together again will take some getting used to.
Ensure staff feel safe1. Physically, everyone must feel confident of the protection measures in place to prevent them catching Covid but, mentally, there is still much uncertainty.
2. They will be wondering if this is permanent or what will happen if infection rates start to rise again.
Good leaders will get everyone in and say, ‘I don’t know exactly how this is going to go, but let’s approach it together’.
Show compassion and empathy1. Some people will be scared. Others can’t wait to get back.
2. Those with families may have additional stressors at home or ongoing childcare issues.
3. Everyone needs to adjust, and leaders should manage their own expectations and offer some leeway.
4. Even senior managers/executives/owners will be feeling anxious.
5. Have open conversations with your peers and managers and be honest if you are nervous.
6. Do things that make you calm, whether that is mindfulness or going for a run.
Take it step by step1. Give it time, and accept there is no ‘normal’ and let everyone find their feet.

Look Out For Your Team

It can be hard to spot signs of stress in your colleagues but when you work closely with someone, you generally know when they are not themselves

Any change in their usual behaviour and performance is a red flag, for example…

  • An outgoing person becoming withdrawn, or the opposite.
  • Missing work or being late when normally punctual.
  • A loss of personal discipline.
  • Showing signs they might be drinking more than usual.
  • Appearing distracted or ‘not quite there’.
  • Uncharacteristic mistakes or procrastinating.
  • Negative statements such as ‘everything is against me’.
  • Seeming more tired than usual or mentioning sleep problems.
  • Low energy or mood.

Ask Twice

If you think someone is acting out of character ask “how are you feeling?” and wait to hear the answer.

If they respond with “I’m fine”, ask “are you sure?”

Three Mindful Moments to Conquer Anxiety

Mindfulness is about bringing yourself back to the present moment. If you find thoughts are overwhelming you, try the following exercises:

  1. Have a brew:
    • But do not just gulp it down.
    • Spend a few moments feeling the warmth of the cup in your hands, smell the aromas, with your eyes open or closed.
    • Sip it slowly and really taste it.
  2. Take a mindful shower:
    • Rather than thinking of your to-do list or things that have stressed you out, notice the feel of the water against your skin, the way the steam moves in the cubicle or perhaps follow the water droplets as they slide down the wall.
  3. Spend time outside:
    • Go to a park, forest, beach or just your back garden for a little while and soak it in.
    • Sit and acknowledge the sights around you, the sounds of the wind in the trees, the sea against the shore, the smells of the flowers and the feel of the sun on your skin.

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