Preparing for Work in a Post Covid World
As part of the ‘return to normalcy’ we're all craving, offices have already started to open their doors to staff. However, it’s worth noting how the pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we operate in the workplace. Though it’s great to see that a ‘blended’ or ‘hybrid’ working model will likely be implemented by many businesses, there are lots of factors to consider when putting a formalised structure in place. Stacey Machesney, Head of Health & Wellbeing at Irish Life Health, has observed some interesting trends over the course of Covid.
A Massive Experiment
For Stacey, it’s all about taking the best parts from the last 2 years and using them to construct a new, more fluid, way of working. “Covid has really been one massive experiment”, she begins. “Humans have gone through natural disasters, diseases and wars in the past, but we’ve always been able to work together to support each other. Covid on the other hand completely isolated us.” For many people, working from home meant quality time with family, saying goodbye to a long commute and reconnecting with the world outside. But in lots of cases, it also led to the blurring of work and home life, an inability to turn off at the end of the day, and digital fatigue due to a lack of human interaction with colleagues.
Blended Working Model
So where does that leave us post Covid? Having experienced such an intense stint of remote working, it seems that many don’t want to return to the office full-time. There’s been lots of discussion about the ‘blended’ model, which means staff can mix and match remote and on-site placement. Each employer will come to its own arrangement, but Stacey advises considering what’s called ‘psychological safety’ as they do so. “It’s about allowing someone to feel that they can speak to their manager about challenges they’re facing, without being judged”, she explains. “As we look at hybrid working, it’s something we’ll have to take into consideration.” In other words, the danger is that those based at home may feel excluded from team discussions or have less opportunity to engage with management.
One way to mitigate this is to work in a more project-focused way. This, says Stacey, will help acknowledge employees' contribution to the business. “Using this model”, she explains, “all the steps it takes to complete the project are measured, and you have touchpoints with people along the way. That automatically fosters recognition and appreciation of what’s been done, and staff feel valued and appreciated.”
Other workarounds include creating what Stacey calls a ‘fair playing field’. “Even if one person is working remotely”, she explains, “all employees dial into important meetings”. That way, no-one feels excluded, or that they’re getting less facetime with management. Similarly, we’ll likely need to revisit our rigid way of measuring working hours. While lots of companies quite rightly implemented a ‘no emails after 7pm’ policy pre-Covid, a more fluid way of working means it might suit some employees to organise their schedule around their home life. "Someone might email in the evening”, Stacey notes, “because they had to take care of kids earlier.” Rather than imposing ourselves into people's diaries, we’ll come to understand that each employee is working in a more agile – but equally productive – way.
Looking Towards the Future
Through trial and error, lots of communication with employees and a solid set of company values, businesses will figure out what works best to support all members of their team. “If an organisation hasn’t clearly stated that inclusion is one of their key values”, says Stacey, “staff may feel they need to simply continue working and only focus on outputs. That’s difficult in this environment, because so many other factors are impacting people.” Establishing a strong ‘border’ between work and home life will be key, both in letting staff work the hours that suit their home situations, and still ‘switch off’ in order to absorb new knowledge and look after their mental health. Allowing them to regularly check in and share updates on jobs - rather than merely focusing on results - will also help cultivate that sense of togetherness. “I hope Covid has allowed employers to grant autonomy to their employees”, says Stacey, “so they feel respected, valued and most importantly, want to do the work.” Only time will tell!
Tips to Manage a Smooth Return to the Office
1. Adopt a Phased Approach
It may be beneficial to adopt a phased approach to new working practices. Phasing the transition back to the office may reduce the potential shock of sudden changes in working environment, giving people time to recalibrate and make any adjustments to personal aspects such as accommodation, childcare, transport, or self-care plans.
2. Communicate Clearly and Openly
Expressing clear expectations and inviting input will encourage employee involvement in the process of returning smoothly to the office. It is crucial for you as a manager to have awareness and understanding surrounding what is working well and what no longer works for your team members.
3.Review Communications Style
Getting the balance right is key. Too little communications may leave team members feeling unsupported, and too much may make them feel micro-managed.
4. Integrate Wellbeing
Be aware of the importance of taking regular breaks and using that time to engage in energising practices such as taking a walk, making a juice, having a laugh with a friend or even some simple breathwork practices. Allowing small moments like this throughout your work week will help to restore clarity to both mind and body.
5. Stay Open Minded
Don’t underestimate the changing relationship developing between employees and what was previously understood as the ‘working day’. Over the past two years, that day has accommodated exercise, self-care, eating properly, family responsibilities and social time, alongside self-managing the demands of a full workload. Be open minded to the idea that an employee can manage their own time and workload. Trust and goodwill will pay dividends.
6. Address Potential Social Anxiety
Normalising apprehension surrounding the return to the office may serve to alleviate the sense of isolation individuals may be experiencing and pave the way for a smoother transition. Yet again, conversation and open discourse is key.
7. Manage Workloads
Research indicates that many employees increased working hours while based at home, and it cannot be expected that this will continue as staff return to the office. Again. Open discussion and check-ins help the team arrive at a manageable workload where the demands of the role do not exceed the resources of the team.
8. Review management style, skills
Leadership style can make or break a successful transition back to the office. It might be helpful to provide soft skills training for employees and management depending largely on how your team are adjusting to the transition.
If you’re interested in accessing further Return to Office support for managers and employees, link in with your dedicated Irish Life Account Manager or Wellbeing Consultant for more information.
WorkLife is a new health and wellbeing consultancy by Irish Life, allowing organisations access to a host of scientifically validated wellbeing programmes; interventions designed to have a real and meaningful impact on the wellbeing of your people and the health of your organisation. Get in touch here to find out more about Irish Life Wellbeing.
WorkLife is provided by Irish Life Wellbeing. WorkLife is not a regulated financial service.