The Challenges Ahead If You Are Returning To The Office

by | 22.04.21

Many of you have been working from home for a year now and have suddenly been told that you need to return to the office. Some of you probably can’t wait to return whilst some of you will be really worried. Unfortunately most people though will be required to return to the office at some time though even if it isn’t five days a week. Here are some of the challenges you may have to face:

Developing office chit – chat again

You have become accustomed to working on your own so therefore your social skills haven’t been used for some time. Talking to your partner or children is not the same as mixing with your work mates. For the first hour you will all probably have lots to say and after that conversation will probably die out, you will need to work on your chit chat. Talking about the weather, what you are having for dinner and the last film you watched on Netflix will return naturally in time but initially you are going to hate being with people all day – every day.

The office will look different

Your employer will have  looked at the office and will have thought about how to make your work area as safe as possible, without question this will probably have resulted in the thining out of the tables and desks, reducing density and spacing out workstations to ensure they comply with virus – related safety protocols. You may find that personal items such as fluffy pens, pencil cases etc are discouraged and the work areas will appear far more clinical and definitely cleaner than ever before

There may be more technology

You might find there is more technology available for you. This could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how IT savvy you are. There could be more collaborative workplaces with fully loaded video conferencing options to link up in person with work from home staff. You may also see more use of mobile apps to facilitate shared issues like parking, conference space booking, meeting room booking and even lunches.

You may find you have a garden

Many employers during your absence have looked at the outdoor space they have and have utilised these previously unused areas to make them into lunch spots for staff members. This will be lovely during the summer, you’ll be able to eat your lunch outside and hopefully get a sun tan at the same time. It could nice as well in the winter particularly if the area is covered

Your employer will be hyper – focused on hygiene

Historically offices may not have been known for meticulous hygiene – but that’s all changed now. Expect an almost hospital like feel, with elements like temperature checks being conducted in some large organisations. You will be expected to be diligent yourself. You may be provided with disinfectant wipes, tissues and hand gel, but you may not. For the sake of your health its worth investing in this type of equipment if its not provided – after all if you don’t look after yourself, you only have yourself to blame if you get ill.

A “don’t touch” environment

A lot of employers are moving towards a completely “touchless” environment to reduce potential transmission. This means that everything from the coffee machine to the water dispenser could have a foot operating system or if you work in a high tech environment you may have a card scanning system that operates these machines. Door entry could also be by card and toilets could now be motion activated with hands free sanitizing

Your employer could be H&S obsessed

Obviously employers must make the workplace as safe as possible for staff, customers or anyone else who visits the office. You will find that your employer may now have appointed a Health and Safety Officer whose role it is to ensure a perfectly safe environment. Probably a “risk assessment” will be completed on a weekly basis to identify anything which might cause harm and the H & S person will implement reasonable steps to prevent it. Your employer should share with you how health and safety will be managed and also anything identified as a potential risk.

More flexible working hours

In order to avoid congestion in the reception area or around the coffee machine many employers will introduce staggered start and finished times so there is no overcrowding. This could mean that instead of working the conventional 9am – 5.30pm shift you may be required to start at 7am and finish at 3.30pm or possibly start at 11am and finish at 7.30pm. Apart from making the office safer as there will be less people in it at certain times it could also make your journey to work better as you will not be travelling during rush hours.

The may be yellow lines on the floor

You may find that your office floor resembles the motorway with lines, arrows and one way signs everywhere. Many offices will have a one way system which is irritating but for your own safety. They will have been introduced to keep people apart in order that social distancing rules can be adhered to.

No hugging or shared lunches

Like school in most offices people form relationships with colleagues and if you haven’t seen this person for a long time hugging them would be a natural reaction. This is a no go area as is shaking hands. No contact is the new rule of the game. Shared lunches is another area which is to be avoided. It is quiet normal in an office for someone to bring in food for others. This will not be allowed as it poses real H&S issues and by the employer allowing this to happen they are condoning the potential risk or spreading Covid. Bring your own food into work, do not share with others, I know it sounds mean but you don’t want to be accused of infecting others do you?

You will able to have your say

You must feel safe in the workplace and if you don’t for any reason there should be someone you can talk to about your worries. This person could be your line Manager, an HR representative or the nominated H&S professional. You need to voice your worries clearly and employers have a duty of care to take any issue raised by staff seriously. An employer not providing a safe working environment puts themselves at risk as well a you. After all if you catch covid in the workplace because the right H & S measures have not been put in place you could sue your employers and they wouldn’t want that.

Be prepared to adjust

It is essential to recognise that you will need time to adapt to new ways of working post pandemic. Going back to work after a long extended furlough or a period of working from home is going to take some adjustment. You will need to navigate changes, your management team has a responsibility to ensure that you understand what’s being asked of you and what action the company are taking to protect your health. Acclimatizing to change is never easy but unfortunately it’s the future and we will all need to adjust and get used to it, but it may take time.

Must you go back to work?

The simple answer to this question is yes. Many of your may feel that you do not want to go back to work at the moment but unfortunately unless you have a really valid reason for not being able to you must. The fact that you are worried about catching coronavirus is not a valid reason for not going back into the office. Everyone is worried about catching the virus but many people have had to work even through lockdown. If you are really concerned your employer should listen to your worries and take steps to protect you, for example your employer may offer you car parking facilities so you don’t have to use public transport. They could offer to keep you on “furlough” in the short term or they could arrange for you to work different hours temporarily so you avoid peak time travel. If you really, really don’t want to return to work even if your employer makes special arrangements for you then you may be able to arrange with your employer to take time of as holiday or unpaid leave. Your employer does not have to agree to this request though. Unfortunately the bottom line is if you refuse to attend work without a valid reason it could result in disciplinary action and even dismissal. If you are in this position we recommend you contact ACAS and talk through your options before you take any action.

So there you go, there are going to be major changes in the workplace that are going to challenge you, but if we are ever to return to any sort of normality these changes are essential and we will all need to adjust them

Good Luck

Angela Burton