Going back to work after COVID-19 is different than other return-to-work scenarios. Typically, it’s one person re-integrating into the workplace after parental leave, an accident or illness. This time almost ‘everyone’ is involved.
We miss structure. We miss our routine. Working with children and pets underfoot is incredibly challenging, and at the same time, it’s lonely working from home.
Getting everyone back to work after COVID-19 isn’t as simple as it sounds. Up until now, an organization only dealt with one person re-integrating into work. Now, entire organizations are working remotely, and staff are eager for the green light to report to work.
Rather than a tidal wave of employees flooding back to work after COVID-19, in many organizations, the return to work will happen in stages. Large organizations may – and probably should – opt to stagger the return to work.
That means we’ll see a situation in which some people are at work and some people are still at home. Workplace boundaries may become more blurred when some people work from home and others are reporting to the office. So many things are closed that it’s easy to assume that everyone is always available. After all, where else could they be?
You and your coworkers may be distracted due to serious personal problems that are fallout from the pandemic. Everyone has experienced some effect of this pandemic. Stress and the quarantine have brought on financial stress, marital breakdown, increases in addictive behaviours, and an increase in domestic violence.
People in leadership positions are dealing with their own issues and challenges, while they’ve been trying to manage others during a huge change that most of us didn’t plan for. When under pressure, many leaders become less effective. Unfortunately, their skills are more important than ever. Allow your leadership as much patience as you can muster.
If you’re in a leadership position, you already know that morale may be low. Acknowledge employee concerns. Treat announcements regarding the new work environment with sensitivity. Think about and ask for ideas for ways to improve morale.
Practical Tips: How to Cope
Your workplace will probably feel different. The physical environment may have changed. Workstations may have to be spaced apart, or barriers added. Some organizations may opt to rotate staff between working at home and work.
1. Set Boundaries
Remember, you get to define your boundaries as you engage with others – even if your home has become your workplace. Be kind to yourself and others as much as you can but you must protect yourself in the ways that you have control over.
- Don’t feel obligated to constantly read and respond to phone calls, emails, or texts immediately. If you need to take some time, take it.
- Feel free to cancel or reschedule plans. You don’t need to attend every single virtual social engagement that you’ve been invited to or signed up for. It’s ok to de-clutter your calendar if that’s what you need to do to avoid feeling too much pressure.
- If people around you are talking about the news too much and it’s overwhelming, ask them not to update you.
- Many of us will start to relax and get back into old habits at work. There may be tensions if/when coworkers get careless with physical distancing. Be prepared to set your physical boundaries in a firm but polite way.
- This previous blog post ‘Less is More: Maintaining Boundaries at Work‘ also provides some tips on workplace boundaries
2. Ease into it
Try to be patient when getting back to your work routine and role.
- Give yourself a break. If possible, don’t go back to work on a Monday. The first week or two back may feel overwhelming. Aim for a three-day week that first week. After regrouping on the weekend, the next week should feel easier.
- If applicable, ease the transition by re-familiarizing your child/children to their caregiver situation before you return to work.
Going back to work after COVID-19 will put even the most well-designed organizations to the test. The more mentally prepared we are for a bumpy transition, the easier it will be. We need to accept that this may be a work in progress. To some extent, we will probably need to adapt as we go.
Do you need help navigating the world of work? Contact Dr. Helen today for a free and confidential initial consultation by phone, email, or via direct message on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. If something urgent comes up, I’m also available by a voice or video on Magnifi, an expertise-on-demand app.
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