Employees working remotely are still scared to return to the workplace

Returning to the office during a pandemic is difficult. Here is how employers can safeguard employees used to working remotely

The ‘new normal’ for the workplace has created a different eco-system, with employers facing challenges in maintaining a sense of purpose and direction for employees who have been working remotely. If they don’t adapt quickly, they could face losing talent and further financial losses.

Many UK employees who have been working remotely now feel “uncomfortable” going back to everyday office lives, says a recent Ipsos poll. Bearing that in mind, any return to work push should involve a “hybrid” approach which does not force people to return.

Physical support

Kevin Thomson, Corporate Healthcare Director, Nuffield Health, has made recommendations on what companies should do to help employees working remotely return to the office: “Businesses must maintain some elements of social distancing post lockdown. Before employees return, review your previous work environment, and think about how you can enforce these measures effectively.

“Think about whether staff will be able to keep a two-meter distance between each other. If not, you will need to adjust the layout of your workspace and consider other practicalities like how you will hold team meetings and maintain good relationships with existing customers or clients.

“If your workplace has been closed for a while, consider a deep clean, paying close attention to things like phones and keyboards, so employees feel safer using the equipment when they arrive. Make sure you have the right supplies in place. Health guidelines state the importance of basic hygiene measures like washing hands regularly, using hand sanitiser and disposable hand towels.”

Wellbeing support

Kevin continues: “Consider organising corporate wellbeing assessments to give employees access to specialists who can tailor suggestions and health advice to the individual. This guides them in making healthy lifestyle adjustments to minimise feelings of stress during uncertain times and to offset perhaps some of the unhealthy habits picked up while working remotely.

“You should also include a physical workplace assessment by a physiotherapist. Individuals with physical health problems are three times more likely to struggle with a mental health problem, too. Making ergonomic workplace adjustments as part of your post-COVID-19 office redesign will play a significant role in helping employees manage their health.

“Those who feel uncomfortable taking part in a face-to-face assessment while social distancing measures are in place should be supported with a personalised digital assessment.”

Working from home has created a lonely work environment. Hence, employers need to take that into account when planning for the return to work, says Jonathan Richards, CEO and Founder of Breathe: “Working remotely has demonstrated how important company culture is. Prolonged periods of isolation have been challenging and negatively impacted workers’ mental health, showing that employers need to exercise empathy and put measures in place to support their staff.

“Introducing buddy schemes, creating a safe space to chat and taking culture digital by setting up virtual quizzes or yoga sessions, are a great way to maintain team connections whilst working remotely continues. The pandemic has shown businesses that people are their most valuable asset and how critical it is to look after them during this difficult time – which is no bad thing.”

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