The past year or so has been a difficult time for everyone. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many health concerns and much economic uncertainty. For the safety of ourselves and the general public, it has been necessary to maintain social distancing, which for many businesses has meant keeping employees like you away from the physical workspace.
However, with the rollout of vaccines and lower rates of infection in the States, we are starting to see a slow return to a new normal. Indeed, a recent study found that 61% of employees surveyed expected to return to the office at least half the time by July 2021. That’s not to say that there isn’t some reticence, though. After all, COVID-19 hasn’t entirely stopped being a threat, and a lot of workers have developed remote skills that can still be relevant in a post-pandemic world.
So, what should you be factoring into your decision to return to a physical workspace? Let’s take a look at some important areas for you to focus on.
Some key considerations
Your starting point for your decision to return to the office must be understanding the motivation to do so. After all, it isn’t enough for your boss to simply want you to return, especially if you’re uncertain of the safety or efficacy of such a move.
Your considerations here should include:
- Workplace Conditions
Talk to your employer about any adjustments they have made to the workplace for the safety of you, your colleagues, and your customers. Though the vaccine rollout has begun, we are not out of the woods yet. Make inquiries about distancing, whether they have taken time to change the layout of the workspace to allow for mindful interactions to take place. Ask about cleaning procedures both for the office and the equipment you share with others.
- Activity Practicality
If your position requires a lot of collaboration with your colleagues, you might have been one of the many people who have struggled to be effective or productive away from the office. The distance from your colleagues, particularly if you don’t have access to remote collaborative tools, can certainly impact your creativity, especially during brainstorming and ideation sessions. Therefore, it’s important to gain an understanding of whether it is more practical — and indeed enjoyable — to return to the office, or if your company is investing in virtual collaboration tools to bridge the gap.
- Geographical Issues
Some regions of the U.S. still have significantly high numbers of COVID-19 cases, and some may have lower vaccine uptake than others. As such, it can be important to do some research into whether contact with customers or even your colleagues can put you at greater exposure to transmission due to where you live. This isn’t necessarily a reason not to return, but it can help to inform the direction of your discussions with your employer.
Precautions and options
If you have decided that the time and conditions are right for your return to the office, it’s also important to think about your strategy for doing so. Take time to plan out and prepare the precautions that not just keep you safe while in the workplace, but also help to make you comfortable and confident as you transition back into in-person activities. After all, it might have been a year since you had to work in this way, you should be prepared for a few bumps as you readjust.
Firstly, while it is your employer’s responsibility to keep a clean environment, it is important to not take the fact for granted. By continuing to make small consistent sanitation efforts while you’re at work you can help to ensure your continued health. Take antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizer with you to work. Before you interact with surfaces and equipment, make sure to wipe them down. Certain areas of an office get more interaction — and therefore get dirtier — than others. Make sure to wipe down elevator buttons and door handles — multiple people, some not connected with your business, will have touched these. The same goes for your desk space and computer equipment; these can be sources of significant interaction, so take time to clean these between each use.
Next, don’t be afraid to ease yourself into going back to work. Some people are looking forward to being in collaborative spaces again, and your employer may be focused on keeping workers productively engaged, but it’s not unusual to experience some anxiety about the prospect. Rather than jumping in with both feet, review your options — is there an opportunity for an initially hybrid remote and in-person schedule? You might want to take a few preparatory trips back into the office, just to get a sense of how things have changed or what you need to plan for.
Your employer’s preference might be to get everybody back into the office to operate within their perception of productivity or teamwork. However, you might consider it too early, or not preferable to working from home. Therefore you may need to engage in some level of negotiation with your employer.
Try not to take this from a combative or even defensive position. It can be wise instead to approach it through openly talking to them about how the return to work will be undertaken. Ask them questions about whether social distancing will be practiced, their procedures for if a colleague becomes symptomatic, and the requirements for protective equipment. This gives you some solid information from which to begin talking about why you are concerned about returning to work, or whether you have pre-existing conditions that might make it more appropriate for you to maintain a remote or hybrid schedule.
If you simply wish to continue as a remote employee, be prepared to provide information on why this approach makes you a more productive team member. You may even want to discuss how it better reflects the methods of the digital frontier and can be used to bolster the company’s brand reputation in a tech-reliant landscape.
It’s only natural to feel some reticence about returning to the office after this past year of a pandemic. However, if you review the appropriateness of your return and take some simple but strict precautions, you can do so safely. If you’re reticent at this time, don’t be afraid to enter into negotiations with your employer that are based around well-informed discussions.
About the Author:
Jori Hamilton is an experienced writer residing in the Northwestern U.S. She covers a wide range of topics but takes a particular interest in covering topics related to business productivity and marketing strategies.
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