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How to navigate a smooth return to on-site working

How to minimise the fear and stress some staff experience when they transition back to the physical workplace.

Are you or some of your teams nervous about returning to office-working? Writing for Harvard Business Review, Ron Carucci says that while anxiety about the transition from home-working back to the office is understandable, there are ways to help yourself and your employees cope with the shift.


More than two-thirds of 1,000 people surveyed by PwC said they didn’t want to go back to the workplace because they were:

  • Frightened of becoming ill (51 per cent);
  • Afraid to use public transport;
  • Concerned about securing adequate childcare.

During the lockdown many staff have shown creativity in adapting to home-working, setting up home offices and juggling homeschooling with Zoom conferences. But employees returning to the workplace know it’s not going to be the same as it was pre-COVID-19. Social distancing and stringent hygiene rules mean there will be a lot of learning and adjusting to do before people can feel comfortable in their space again.


Carucci, who works with executives around transformational change, has five key pieces of advice for leaders negotiating the workplace return:

1) Acknowledge and assess worries. Check in with your own feelings and talk them through with someone. Hiding anxiety is rarely successful and can affect your mental health; a fearful leader is not going to inspire confidence in their workforce. Make sure there is also someone employees can speak to about their concerns – a therapist or coach.

2) Be understanding and amenable. Workplace change will continue to be swift and ongoing. Keep yourself informed of the latest workplace safety standards, and convey them clearly to your teams. Some recommendations may not be easy to implement in your workplace – be adaptable and creative in finding strategies to overcome hurdles. Be ready to deal positively with employees’ resentment and scepticism about change.

3) Avoid assumptions. “What you are actually capable of, what you need, and what you are thinking may not match what others conclude.” To avoid confusion, communicate openly with employees and let them know that it’s acceptable to voice their concerns and highlight difficulties, and that you will do your best to accommodate them. Be honest in your responses; if you don’t know the answer right now, say so.

4) Lighten the atmosphere. Actively look for reasons for your employees to be cheerful. Take time out to get people together; laughing about small failures and celebrating inspiring incidents will help to reconnect your workplace community and rebuild trust.

5) Keep learning. The workplace return is going to be a long and bumpy transition for all of us, but your attitude and adaptability as a leader will go a long way to shaping a positive outcome for all. Find a mantra to bolster you when you feel disheartened, and remember you are not alone.

Fears about transitioning back to the physical workplace are far from irrational. But there’s a lot you can do to help yourself and your staff adapt to a changed office environment. Show positivity and leadership now, and you and your teams will benefit from a stronger sense of cohesion, adaptability, and openness.

Source Article: How To Prepare Yourself For A Return To The Office
Author(s): Ron Carucci
Publisher: Harvard Business Review