Back in the workplace: how employees and employers can get it right

Feb 15, 2021

Many people are re-entering the physical workplace for the first time in nearly 12 months. This can be stressful, so it's worth knowing how you can transition back in a positive way.

For many people in Australia, the beginning of 2021 marks the return to the physical workplace. Some will be heading back in a full-time capacity, whereas others are adopting a combination of remote and onsite working.

Either way, the return to this traditional way of working can be stressful, for both employees and employers.

Concerns for employees

With so many businesses adopting remote working arrangements in 2020, it will be a big change for employees going back onsite. You may have developed a good routine working from home that makes other aspects of life easier, from arranging school pick-ups and drop-offs to exercising and preparing dinner ahead of time.

Resuming your daily commute means getting up earlier, losing time at each end of the day and in many cases, there is a financial element, whether it’s for public transport, or petrol and parking. You could be hesitant to use public transport at all, especially as more people return to offices, and trams, trains and buses become more crowded. You may be equally nervous about sharing a physical workplace with your colleagues.

Accepting the new normal will take time, and it’s perfectly normal to feel unsettled during this transition.

Responsibilities of managers and business owners

Organisations need to make sure their staff feel comfortable about returning to a physical workspace. It must be a safe environment that ticks all the boxes from a legal standpoint, with all relevant information communicated to employees.  

Employers need to be aware of and follow COVID-safe rules. This includes keeping track of the number of staff in the building at any one time through contact tracing and adhering to physical distancing restrictions. Regular sanitising and following cleaning protocols are also a key factor.

There is also an opportunity for managers and business owners to ensure their employees enjoy a positive return to work experience. It is a great motivator for staff if it’s clear their employer is switched on and has put the effort in to making them feel safe and cared for.

How can you make a positive return to work?

One of the best ways to make a successful return to the workplace is to control what you can control. There will be some things that you have no power over, so try not to stress about those aspects. Instead, focus on the controllable.

There are obvious things you can do. As an employee, follow all the right protocols designed to keep you and your colleagues safe, like physical distancing and sanitising regularly.

You should also communicate to your manager any concerns you have. This might be about adopting a flexible working arrangement (for example, working remotely two days a week) or simply to make them understand you’re struggling with the transition.

If you’re in a position where you manage others at work, resources like the National COVID-19 safe workplace principles are available to provide guidance.

Lastly, no matter what your role, it’s important to take care of your mental health during this period. Even as your work routine changes, remember to set aside time for the things that keep you happy and healthy, whether it’s reading, walking the dog or going to the gym.

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