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Returning to work after lockdown ends – what to expect

As coronavirus restrictions in some countries begin to ease, we take a look at what to expect when you’re returning to work after lockdown.

Returning Work After Lockdown

As vaccination programmes around the world begin to take hold, some countries are beginning to ease restrictions. As we start to cautiously step out of lockdown, what can those who are returning to the workplace expect to find? 

We explore what might change at the office after lockdown ends, some new ways people might work, and how you can stay safe when returning to work. We’ll also look at how to take care of your mental health and how you can support those around you. 

What is the current advice? 

The pandemic is affecting different parts of the world in different ways. As of 17 May, advice for those in the UK is that everyone who can work from home should still do so. This means that many people across the country are still working remotely. 

For employers, the guidance suggests that every step should be taken to allow employees to work from home. However, where this is not possible, businesses should make sure that their workplace is COVID-19 secure. You can find full details on how this applies in the UK on the official government website

In the US, CDC guidance suggests that businesses and employers should take steps to prevent and reduce transmission among employees. They also recommend monitoring state, local, and public health communications about COVID-19 regulations.  

What will change after lockdown ends?

The current roadmap out of lockdown states that the final stages of easing lockdown won’t happen before 21 June 2021.’ This date is the earliest point by which the government hopes to remove all legal limits on social contact. 

So what happens after lockdown, and what could this period mean for returning to the workplace? Will many of us return to the 9-5 of office life? Or will remote working become the norm? 

It’s hard to say exactly what returning to work after the coronavirus pandemic ends will look like. Right now, the world is focused on controlling the spread of the virus and getting people vaccinated. That being said, some short-term trends are starting to emerge. 

  • Many companies are extending their work-from-home policies. Businesses such as Google, Microsoft, and Apple have extended their remote working opportunities until at least later in the year. 
  • Hybrid working seems to suit many people. Various surveys have suggested that many workers are keen on the idea of working from home (WFH) at least some of the time. One survey in the US found that 80% of those interviewed expect to work from home at least three times a week after COVID-19. A similar UK survey saw that British employees want to retain WFH for about two days a week
  • Many businesses expect hybrid working. According to a BBC poll, 43 of the biggest 50 employers in the UK said they would embrace a mix of home and office working. In the US, an IDC report forecasted that mobile workers would account for nearly 60% of the total US workforce. 

Of course, not every company, role, or employee will be in the position to work from home or have a flexible schedule. However, for an increasing number of us, remote and flexible work could be the future. 

What to expect when returning to work

Whether you’re starting in a new role or have plans to return to the office after COVID-19 restrictions end, things might seem a little different. The last year or so has meant many of us have had to adjust to new ways of doing things, both at home and at work. 

Here are some of the changes you might encounter when returning to work after lockdown: 

Health screenings 

Many businesses are currently providing regular health screenings for employees. As well as temperature checks and self-reported symptom checks, some employers are also providing rapid COVID-19 tests. These types of workplace safety measures could continue to play a role in ensuring staff and customers remain safe after lockdowns end. 

Smaller offices 

Many of us have been working from home for the past year. As we’ve seen, many employers and employees seem convinced that hybrid working is the future. As such, organisations may find that they need less office space than before. 

Of course, while social distancing measures are in place, smaller spaces aren’t feasible. However, once these measures end, many businesses will look to smaller office premises. According to one survey by UK-based firm RSM, three-quarters of midsized businesses have either started to or are considering reducing the volume of their office space. 

As more staff members work remotely, there isn’t the need for everyone to have a desk all of the time. Instead, many teams will collaborate remotely, only occasionally meeting up in person. 

A rise in collaborative workspaces 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, shared and collaborative workspaces were becoming increasingly popular. While the pandemic has presented challenges for these shared spaces, as people return to work when lockdown ends, smaller office footprints could mean a rise in collaborative workspaces. 

The flexibility that comes with shared office space, both for employers and employees, means that it’s easy to upscale or downscale capacity as needed. It also gives individuals the chance to meet and work with people from a wide range of backgrounds and industries. 

More remote working

As we’ve seen, the pandemic has already resulted in more people working remotely. This trend was already starting to emerge before COVID-19, but it’s one that’s likely here to stay. A report from McKinsey found that about 20 to 25 percent of the workforces in advanced economies could work from home between three and five days a week. 

As employees become more accustomed to flexible ways of working, returning to work after lockdown won’t be an office 9-5 for everyone. As per the McKinsey report, we could see a major shift in where and how people work.

How to stay safe when returning to the office 

You might be returning to work after COVID-19 has impacted you directly, or it could be that measures and restrictions have relaxed, allowing you to return. But how can you stay safe when returning to work? 

While the pandemic continues, your employer should have already taken measures to ensure that your working environment is safe. However, there are steps you can take as well, whether lockdown has been lifted or not:

Follow guidelines 

The most important advice is to follow any current guidelines related to the pandemic. In the UK, you can find current guidance on the government HSE website. As mentioned, at the time of writing, those who can feasibly work from home should still do so. For those who cannot, measures such as social distancing and wearing a face covering are recommended. 

Keep hygiene in mind 

Pandemic aside, workplace cleanliness can bring a whole host of benefits. By taking steps to keep your workspace sanitised and washing your hands thoroughly, you can reduce the spread of viruses and illness. A tidy work environment can also help you keep focused and increase productivity. 

Increase ventilation

This point is another that applies both during and after the pandemic. A stuffy office can cause drowsiness and poor concentration. However, an open window can also help to prevent the spread of viruses. One 2019 study found that natural ventilation can reduce the transmission of tuberculosis by 72%. 

Try and keep your workspace well ventilated, opening windows where possible and allowing a breeze through. 

Spend time outside 

It can help both your physical and mental health to spend some of your working day outside. Whether it’s escaping the office for a lunchtime walk or cycling to work rather than taking public transport, the benefits of exercise are clear. As well as reducing stress and improving your mood, it can also boost your immune system. 

Taking care of your mental health 

One of the key areas to think about when returning to work after lockdown is taking care of your mental wellbeing. Recent times have been stressful and anxiety-inducing for many of us. Some people may find that these feelings carry over to working life after lockdown. 

If you’re returning to work after furlough, you may have concerns about your health and safety, as well as social anxiety. We’ve got another article coming that goes into more detail about post-lockdown anxiety, but for now, we’ve covered some of the basics. 

To take care of your mental health when returning to the office after lockdown, bear the following points in mind: 

Speak with a health professional 

If you’re concerned about your mental health when emerging from lockdown, it’s important that you speak to a trained medical professional about it. As we explore in our article on dealing with anxiety, there are therapies and medications that can help those who need them. 

Get familiar with your workplace guidelines

Your employer should have taken steps to ensure that the return to work is a safe one for employees (and customers, where applicable). There may be guidelines in place that you’ll need to follow, at least in the short-term. Being familiar with the protocols and procedures for returning to work can help to put your mind at ease. 

Plan for your return

Many people find it helpful to know how their return to work is going to go. Take some time to plan out your first few days back at the office or place of employment. 

Think about how you’re going to get to and from work, how to stay safe while you’re there, and what you’re going to do for your lunch/breaks. Again, this can help take out some of the uncertainty of going back to work, helping you to hit the ground running. 

Speak with your employer

If you have concerns about your return to work after lockdown, speak with your manager or employer to find out as much information about your workplace as possible. They should have planned out what your working environment will be like and have plenty of information to hand. You can also make them aware of how you’re feeling, and they may be able to help you readjust. 

Be kind to yourself 

Ultimately, the end of lockdown (whenever it comes) will likely be both liberating and a bit daunting for many people. During such a time, it’s important that you take some time out for self-care. 

Practising mindfulness, having a regular exercise routine, a healthy and balanced diet, and good sleep and hygiene can all help with your mental health. Make sure you’re kind to yourself to help you feel happy and productive. 

How to support your co-workers

Whether you’re in a position where you manage people or simply want to support those around you, there are steps you can take to help people as they return to office life. We’ve highlighted some useful tips for returning to work: 

  • Show a positive and caring approach. Everyone will react differently to being back at work after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. Make sure that you account for these differences using an inclusive and understanding approach when talking about the return to work. These are just some of the signs of strong leadership.  
  • Help create a return to work plan. Think about how the people in your team will work going forward. Will it be a hybrid working environment or will some people be back in the office? Make sure you have a plan for how everyone will interact in the short- and long-term. 
  • Have regular catch-ups. As the CIPD outlines in their return to work guidance, managers should have one-to-ones with every employee to discuss health, safety and wellbeing. 
  • Be flexible. It will take a period of readjustment when people start returning to work. As such, it’s important to understand that situations will vary considerably. Try and accommodate these differences where possible, ensuring your co-workers feel confident in re-entering the workplace. 

You can find out more about workplace wellness with our free online course, which examines stress and productivity at work. 

Final thoughts 

Returning to work after lockdown might seem like a bit of a challenge. However, it’s important to remember that many people have continued working throughout the pandemic, and employers have a duty of care to ensure that you have a safe working environment. Whether you’re returning to the office or other workplace, you can also check the government guidelines for how to prepare. 

Although working after the pandemic might be a little different, there are still ways you can ensure you take care of your physical and mental wellbeing. Be sure to plan for your own return to work, while also considering the needs of your co-workers. 

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