Change Leadership

Are we returning to the office yet?

378 216 Nicole Burton

By Nicole Burton

As restrictions continue to ease across the country, organisations are readying themselves for employees to return to the workplace. The COVID-19 pandemic permanently altered the way we work, and the transition of going back to the workplace will be significant and disruptive to many. Employees need to be consulted and supported throughout the process, and employers need to consider the following factors in planning their return.

  1. Comply with health and safety requirements

Having a COVIDSafe plan is the first step in the process and will take into consideration the following:

  • Monitoring and maintaining proper social distancing guidelines in workspaces as well as collaboration spaces such as meeting rooms and other shared spaces
  • Establishing stringent cleaning and sanitation protocols for desks, meeting rooms, bathrooms and shared kitchen spaces
  • Ensuring staff maintain personal hygiene, such as the wearing of face masks when in close contact with others, and regular hand washing and/or use of hand sanitisers
  • Reviewing all travel arrangements and client visits
  • Establishing a policy that outlines an employees’ obligations should they display symptoms of COVID-19
  • Putting in place a contingency plan should there be a new spike in COVID-19 cases
  • Putting in place a management plan where an employee tests positive to COVID-19
  • How employees return to the office, i.e., should your organisation adopt a staggered approach?

Once you’ve prepared your COVIDSafe plan, share it with your team and encourage them to raise any concerns they have before settling the plan and ensuring everyone understands the protocols.

  1. Proactively manage and support mental health

The pandemic has significantly impacted people’s mental health.  Managers need to demonstrate empathy and understanding when it comes to the individual challenges each employee faces from a mental health perspective. Factors that employers need to consider include:

  • Stress and anxiety for staff who may not yet feel comfortable or safe returning to the workplace
  • Alternative transport methods for staff who rely on public transport. This may include maintaining a working from home arrangement on an ongoing basis
  • Ways to further support staff who continue to work from home. This includes regular communication and check-ins to review their general wellbeing
  • Identifying the triggers that cause stress and anxiety and working together to try to resolve them
  • Providing professional external support (i.e. EAP)
  1. Encourage positive physical health and wellbeing

Mental Health and Physical Health go hand in hand. Managers should encourage staff to continue to look after their physical health as well. This could include:

  • Encouraging employees to stick to a regular pattern of work (i.e. 9am to 5pm)
  • Ensure they have a regular sleep pattern and that they are getting sufficient sleep
  • Exercising regularly (running, walking, yoga, Pilates etc.)
  • Encouraging employees to stretch and take regular breaks from their computers 
  1. Properly assessing and supporting flexibility

What if an employee wishes to change their employment indefinitely and request a flexible work arrangement? The following employee groups are entitled to request a change such as their hours of work, patterns of work and or work location.

  • Vulnerable workers, such as employees 65 years of age and over
  • Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders over 50 years
  • Anyone with a chronic health condition
  • Pregnant women – while not officially a vulnerable group, may have a reasonable basis for refusal if they have medical evidence to suggest returning to the office may place them at risk
  • Employees with carer responsibilities
  • Employees with a disability
  • Parents of young children
  1. Employee Engagement

For employees who continue to work from home on a regular basis, employers should ensure that regular communication and wellness programs are maintained. These include:

  • Wellbeing offerings such online classes and sessions for yoga, Pilates and mediation
  • Regular connections through in-person meetings, video or audio calls
  • Setting up forums that allow staff to communicate with one another on a range of topics

Still not sure where to start? 

Reach out to our team at Found Consulting. We can support you and your team to transition smoothly back to the office.