As organisations prepare to bring their employees back to office after months of letting them work from home, it is necessary to keep in mind that they will be entering a workplace that is way different from what they were once used to.
Many employees who found it easier to work at home, may not be comfortable in the office environment anymore, because of the stark difference in the setting and space. They may also find it difficult to adjust to the behavioural demands of the office.
Similarly, the employees who were recruited during the pandemic, and worked only from their homes, may not be able to get the hang of the workplace rules and behaviour. Add to this the lingering shadow of the pandemic and the scare of the Omicron variant, and the picture is far from rosy.
“It is important that they remain tolerant with the employees, and not expect everything to return to normal immediately”
Anil Gaur, group chief people officer, Akums Drugs and Pharmaceuticals
Working in the safe confines of one’s home, where one can move, dress and work more freely, without any restrictions is very different from having to share space with co-workers.
Deprived of the same level of freedom, the employees may feel restless and constrained, and find it challenging to focus on their work. The pressures of work, and the constant need to remain cautious and alert at all times may even weigh down heavily on some.
To alleviate this pressure and ensure that the employees are well settled in the office, and do not have trouble adjusting to the new environment, the companies have to outline rules and guidelines for them to follow.
Do’s and Don’ts
Dola Mukherjee, head of human resources, Exide Life Insurance, suggests, “There need to be do’s and don’ts in place to ensure that everybody remains safe, even while maintaining a stable pace of work.”
It is highly likely that after working from home for a long period of time, employees may become lax, forget boundaries, throw caution to the wind and start interacting with each other without protection.
Mukherjee says, “By placing importance on social distancing and wearing masks at all times, the supervisors can secure the workplace against spread of infection.”
People should also respect each other’s personal space and not encroach on it while working.
“There need to be do’s and don’ts in place to ensure that everybody remains safe, even while maintaining a stable pace of work”
Dola Mukherjee, head of human resources, Exide Life Insurance
To make the process of easing back into work smoother, the companies shouldn’t demand that the employees work from the office every day. Coming in to work from the physical office on alternate days, and following the hybrid model would be ideal, at least in the beginning.
Following COVID protocols
Divya Srivastava, CHRO, GE Healthcare, believes that reinforcing COVID protocols will help manage employees at work.
She also adds that the employees who were hired during the pandemic, onboarded online and have been working from home, should be properly assimilated into the workplace. They need to be explained all the rules and regulations in advance so that there is no confusion and trouble later.
It is essential to ascertain that everybody is comfortable while working, even as they follow social distancing and mask mandates.
Role of leaders
The responsibility to see that the guidelines are being followed by employees falls on the team. A company that is apathetic towards its employees, is unlikely to get anything done properly. It should always be vigilant to the concerns of its employees.
Haphazard steps taken to push people back into the office have only led to disasters with multiple people getting infected after only few days of opening.
“Supervisors and managers at work should practise high emotional intelligence while dealing with employees returning to office,” advises Anil Gaur, group chief people officer, Akums Drugs and Pharmaceuticals.
Not only do they need to act with concern for their employees but also show care while handling them and their issues.
“The employees who were hired during the pandemic, onboarded online and have been working from home, should be properly assimilated into the workplace”
Divya Srivastava, CHRO, GE Healthcare
The leaders must come up with a formal programme to discuss the measures to bring everyone back to office in a more disciplined way.
They must prepare themselves for the changed circumstances and follow COVID safety protocols strictly.
“It is important that they remain tolerant with the employees, and not expect everything to return to normal immediately,” he says.
On the other hand, the employees should also be diligent and not treat the workplace as a place of vacation.
Double masking, with surgical masks above cloth masks, also needs to be made mandatory to curb the spread of infection.
Employees should practise social distancing, avoid sitting close to each other and refrain from sharing food during lunch break. It’ll be better if they continue to remain alert after and beyond work as well, just to protect themselves and everybody else from harm.
Gaur explains further, that the lockdown has drastically changed a lot of things for people with families. For instance, women with small children whose schools are closed, will find it difficult to come in to office regularly. To avoid this difficulty in compartmentalising, Gaur suggests that the workplace follow a hybrid plan of working from home and office on alternate days.
With the rising threat of the Omicron variant across the country, it’ll be difficult to run the workplace with the same expectations as few years ago. If the leaders and employees collaborate and take all the necessary precautions and abide by all the rules, it’ll make working a whole lot easier.