The return to work

The impending end of lockdown has brought into focus two distinct camps: those that are racing to get back to their 7am spin classes followed by busy days in the office and those that just aren't.

The return to work

The impending end of lockdown has brought into focus two distinct camps: those that are racing to get back to their 7am spin classes followed by busy days in the office and those that just aren’t. While working from home has been far from a walk in the park (less Carrie Bradshaw tapping away at her laptop with a Cosmopolitan, more like an episode of The Walking Dead as you endure your 456th Zoom call that day), we can’t take for granted that all of us are desperate to get back to the office full time. 

In Human Element, a recent report published by PUSH, we commissioned YouGov to carry out a survey of 3,000 employees to dig deep into the impact of the pandemic on the world of work, and specifically on the people at the heart of it. We found that a significant 30% of us are anxious about returning to the office, increasing to 38% for under 35s. Of the people we interviewed, 36% believe that they will be expected back in the office 100% of the time, even though almost half of the group spoke of how this would be detrimental to their mental wellbeing. So why, after a year of dramatic change and uncertainty, are people feeling the pressure to alter their lives once again? For one thing this transitional period has spawned a new strain of presenteeism ‘ the fear that not showing our faces in the office will result in us kissing goodbye to any promotion or pay rise opportunities in the future. 

The solution is an efficient hybrid working solution with a robust level of trust at its core. Leaders must be able to trust that their employees work effectively from home, while workers should feel confident that they will be included as part of the team and won’t be overlooked for promotions. All this is within the control of our business leaders, whose priority at this crucial time has to be doubling down on communication across all areas. The first to tackle is the element of surprise; even those of us who love surprises would probably prefer not to have them in our working lives, so try to avoid dropping a ‘we’ll be back in the office tomorrow!’ bombshell via email. Include your employees in the conversations, share any updates as they’re made and give people plenty of time to process the new protocols. This will help instil a sense of psychological safety and a feeling of control over future events ‘ things that have been cruelly snatched from us since the pandemic hit. 

Furthermore, take the pressure off by viewing this as a time for experimenting. Last year we were thrown at turbo-speed into the future of working and now’s the time to step back and take stock of what works and what doesn’t for your company and the people in it. Keep the channels of communication open and encourage feedback from employees as you fine-tune your perfect working model; remember you won’t necessarily get everything right first time. Within this, be sure to establish company-wide behaviours and boundaries, agreed upon by everyone from the get-go. This will save all involved a whole lot of emotional anguish and mental energy, which would be better invested in nurturing their personal development and your business. 

Finally, providing both emotional and practical support for your staff is fundamental. Commit to upskilling ‘ for you and employees ‘ utilising programmes that are relevant to your organisation. Each company and its people are unique, so get the gauge on how your staff are feeling, then use these insights to shape your brief. Promoting self-development is not only a huge booster for team morale but is also a proven and powerful tool for increasing profitability and employee retention. It’s the ultimate win-win.

As we move tentatively towards the light at the end of the tunnel, this time should be embraced as an opportunity to change the landscape of work forever. By placing people at the heart of our organisations we can reach heights that were previously unattainable in the pre-Covid years. It’s just going to take a little push. 

Cate Murden
Cate Murden

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