Following the rollout of the Covid vaccine, more and more businesses are beginning to return to the workplace. But with a workforce still reeling from the toll of lockdowns and social distancing measures, this sudden shift could present a number of concerns and challenges.
A recent survey carried out by McKinsey revealed that whilst a third of respondents welcomed the idea of returning to work, another third also felt that returning to work had already negatively affected their mental health. And almost half of those who haven’t yet returned to work are nervous to do so due to concerns on the impact it could have on their wellbeing.
With World Mental Health Day falling on this Sunday, we’ve put together a quick guide which covers the proactive steps employers can take to ensure their employees feel supported as they transition from home back to the workplace.
Going straight from homeworking back to a nine-to-five Monday to Friday in-office working pattern is likely going to feel too jarring for the majority of your team. The key to making this shift feel less daunting is to make it gradual by slowly reintroducing in-office working.
Over the past few months, we’ve slowly approached our return to the office by giving our staff the choice to return to work whenever they would like - whether it’s one or two days a week or not at all - to allow them to adjust in their own time. We also gave our team plenty of notice about our planned return date to the office, giving them all enough time to make their arrangements.
One thing that lockdown has taught us is that many of us can effectively work from home. But with pros and cons for both working from home and working in the office (which we weighed up in this blog) it’s clear that a hybrid working approach offers the best of both worlds. Offering a blended approach can create a happier workforce, and therefore leads to increased loyalty. By also providing an office space, the team can feel more connected and creative ideas can be shared more easily.
At Eleven, we’ve chosen to set Tuesdays and Wednesdays as our ‘in the office days’, giving our team the chance to start and end their working weeks at home for greater flexibility. We’ve also provided each member of our team with all the tools and equipment they could need to work from home, and we have daily check-ins to make sure everyone is doing ok and has all the support they need.
Over recent months, we’ve made the most of the time our team has been working from home by making some enhancements to our office space. But before we actually carried out any work, we asked our staff what they would like to see introduced. And we listened to their requests.
The changes we’ve made include introducing multiple break-out rooms and areas to give our people more choice, as well as creating great informal spaces for ideas generation sessions or lunch breaks. We’ve also introduced more greenery and pops of colour to our working space to make the environment feel more welcoming.
Making these changes, as requested by our team, has been a great way to make sure that our staff feel more at home in the office and has made returning to work feel more exciting rather than daunting.
In any team, you’ll find that people have different personal commitments and schedules, so it’s unwise to think that one approach to working will suit everyone. Allowing your employees to decide their own work hours (within parameters that work for your business) and working environment will likely lead to a much happier and more productive workforce. This can lead to increased morale and better employee retention in the long run.
After so many months of social distancing protocols, it can be easy to become a little complacent when it comes to Covid measures. But it’s crucial to recognise that uncertainty around safety could be one of the key reasons your staff might be feeling reluctant to return to the office.
Therefore, it’s important to remind your staff of what you’ve done, are doing and will continue to do to keep them safe. For example, we’ve dotted multiple sanitising stations around our office as well as some helpful signage to remind our people that we’re still taking it seriously. We also encourage everyone to take a lateral flow test before coming into the office to help protect their health.
One of the biggest challenges with mental health is that many feel unable to talk about it with someone. This is why it’s your responsibility as an employer to regularly check up on your staff to see how they’re doing and find out if there is anything you can do to support them. It can also be a good idea to introduce a ‘buddy’ system so that your staff have the opportunity to speak with a peer if the thought of speaking with a manager feels intimidating.
We offer our staff a dedicated Employee Assistance Programme, provided by Health Assured, which provides a qualified counsellor who can offer emotional or practical support. It’s available 24 hours and completely free for our team to use, meaning they have access to support whenever it’s needed.
For further advice on how you can support your staff as they return to the workplace, Mind has a range of fantastic (and free) resources you can explore. These can be found here.