The New Normal in the Workplace; How do I Define and Manage this?
The Coronavirus pandemic has changed life as we know it. As vaccination rates increase and infection rates decrease in developed countries, businesses and offices are re-opening again.
Employees who have been working at home since the pandemic started are now being called back into their workplaces. While this is a good development against our fight against Covid-19, don’t expect things to go back to pre-2020 levels yet. Covid-19 is here to stay — at least for a couple of years more as new variants evolve.
The risk of getting infected with coronavirus in the workplace is still there and businesses and organisations must learn to embrace it. We are now living in the “new normal”.
What is the new normal?
Simply put, the new normal means living with coronavirus. Until a safe and effective vaccine is available and herd immunity is achieved, we must continue to practice minimum health standards as we go back to work and live a more normal life.
Protective practices like the following must be continuously observed:
- Wash your hands regularly – wash your hands for 20 seconds or more frequently throughout the day with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitiser with 70% alcohol. Regular hand washing is an effective way of protecting yourself and your loved ones from Covid-19 and other disease-causing germs.
- Always wear a face mask – face masks are designed to protect those around you from the virus in case you are carrying it without your knowledge. Remember, most Covid-19 cases are asymptomatic which means that infected individuals don’t exhibit any symptoms.
- Physical distancing – to help prevent the coronavirus from spreading, consider staying at least 6 feet away from anyone that’s not a member of your household.
- Avoid large crowds – viruses spread easily in large crowds and places with poor ventilation.
- Get a jab – trial studies around the globe have proven that vaccines work especially in preventing severe cases of Covid-19. So, when a vaccine becomes available in your area, get yours right away. Remember that a vaccine is not a guarantee that you will not be infected with Covid-19 so, practising protective measures is still a must.
- Take care of your mental and physical well-being – it’s been over a year since the first case of Covid-19 has been reported and a lot has changed. Sometimes the stress of working at home and the anxiety of an uncertain future can take their toll. Learn how to manage stress, meditate, exercise, and eat healthy food.
Going back to the office: an example approach
The “new normal” is easier said than done. In this section, we’ll aim to provide you with an example approach on how to make sure that your workplace is ready for employees that are going back to the office. We’ll divide our approach into 4 steps:
Step 1# Review guidelines outlined by your local health authorities
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Occupational Safety Health Administration have published guidance on how to prevent and limit the spread of coronavirus in the workplace. If your business is located in the United States, visit this link.
For businesses in the UK, the Health and Safety Executive has also published equivalent guidelines which you can access here.
Step 2# Planning and sanitisation
Adopting the new normal in the office requires a lot of careful and proactive planning. Here are some key points that might help:
- Install better ventilation systems – studies confirm that Covid-19 does not spread easily in spaces with good ventilation. To help reduce the viral load in your workplace, consider updating your HVAC with high-efficiency air filters.
- Determine how and where Covid-19 could be transmitted in your workplace – high-traffic areas and frequent touchpoints in the office can easily spread coronavirus. Common areas include elevator buttons, break rooms, light switches, lobbies, door handles, etc. Once you’ve identified these key areas in your office, make a plan to limit the risk of infection.
- Remove porous surfaces like carpets and lobby chairs as these can harbour Covid-19 particles for weeks.
- Make sure to do a deep clean and disinfection of your workplace before your official “re-opening”.
- Create and put up a comprehensive new normal plan including schedules for regular maintenance and disinfection. Include in this plan what needs to be done in case one or more of your employees get infected with the virus.
Step 3# Educate your employees
As you welcome your employees to the office, make sure to educate them with the “new normal” rules. This includes implementing strict minimum health protocols (e.g., wearing of facemasks, regular handwashing, physical distancing, etc).
Step 4# Embrace technology
If there’s a silver lining to this pandemic, it’s the impact of technology in our everyday lives. Thanks to the internet and modern computing, remote work enabled businesses to continue running a skeletal workforce. You can also use technology to make your workplace safer. For example, since doorknobs are considered high-touch surfaces, consider investing in a hands-free, motion-activated door for your lobby instead.
How will you manage the new normal in the workplace?
Managing the new normal in the office once employees come back can be a huge challenge for the managers and business owners. Here are 10 tips that we think might help:
1️⃣ Communicate your return-to-office plans to your employees regularly
Open and regular communication is a great way to prepare your employees to go back to the office. Highlight new work arrangements and make clear what’s expected of your employees when they report back. Remember that there are still employees who are experiencing anxiety. Reach out to them and give them time to adjust. Over-communicate if needed. Remember that in a pandemic, there’s no such thing as too much communication.
2️⃣ Show your employees the preparations you’ve done to keep them safe
Many of your employees will be afraid to go back. One of the ways to assure them is to show them the preparations you’ve made to mitigate the spread of the virus in your workplace. This is a great opportunity to show your employees that you care about their mental and physical well-being.
3️⃣ Give a specific time frame
Remove the guessing game. From the get-go, tell your employees when the return to office process starts. Being specific and showing that you are prepared will help ease the anxiousness of your workers.
4️⃣ Be flexible with your return to office program
Build-in some flexibility in your plans. For example, instead of asking your employees to work in the office for 5 days straight, allow them to work from home for a day or two to help ease their transition. Also, remember that the pandemic is not over yet. So, be prepared to pivot when the situation gets worse again.
5️⃣ Redefine your definition of productivity
Employees have different working styles. Some are more productive in an office environment while others work well in the comfort of their homes. Managers should learn to collaborate with their employees. Give your employees options and guidelines to decide what works best for them.
6️⃣ Safety is now your priority
If your office looks the same as the one that your employees left in 2020, then there’s something wrong. Remember that your employees will continue to feel scared and wary. One of the best ways to assure them that it is safe to go back is by ensuring that proper mitigations are in place to help reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission in their physical workplaces. Not only this but also the protocols enforced in your organisation and by your office building. In short, everything must scream “Covid safe!”.
7️⃣ Evaluate regularly
Regular surveys are a great way to connect with your employees, evaluate their experience, and respond quickly to their changing needs. You can do this quarterly. Encourage honest feedback among your workforce.
8️⃣ Foster a supportive organisation
Initiatives like training, professional development, mentorship, and workshops should be redesigned to prioritise safety for employees. Another thing you can do to create a supportive organisation is by asking your employees what will help them feel safe at work, how the pandemic has affected them, and what do they need to become more productive. Using their answers as a guide, you can then put new programs that can help employees succeed in these trying times.
The Covid-19 pandemic has introduced new challenges and demands to business owners, managers, and employees. During the early months of the outbreak, almost everyone shifted to working from home where we saw a huge boost in productivity and contentment. But then new challenges arise as loneliness and lack of socialisation creep in.
Now, everyone is aiming to go back to the office and feel a sense of normalcy once again. If there is one last piece of advice we can give, it’s this: be flexible and focus on safety. The future is still uncertain. As long as there’s no herd immunity yet, outbreaks can still happen. Your organisation must be ready to pivot anytime. Lastly, businesses that focus on the safety of their employees will have workers that are confident and more productive at work.
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