A Blog series by Elise Misse

Blog #20

Returning to the Workplace Following Lockdown

Day by day, people across the world are returning to their conventional workplaces. Lockdowns are increasingly infrequent, retailers and businesses are re-opening, and companies are getting back on their feet.

Maybe you’ve already returned if you’re reading this, or maybe you’re preparing yourself to do so. After countless months working from home, this is going to require a period of adjustment. Let’s consider how we can make the transition as smooth as possible.

Honesty is the Best Policy
We all owe it to ourselves to be honest about our feelings and comfort levels. As employees, we need to be clear about what keeps us calm in an uncertain world. We have all experienced COVID-19 differently, and it has impacted some of us more directly than others. If the only way you’ll feel safe is maintaining social distance, express this to your colleagues. Nobody will take offense, it’s hardly like you’re raising a personal issue!

It’s equally crucial for business leaders to acknowledge and empathise with people’s security – and be equally honest in return. Ultimately, the bottom lines of many companies have taken a hit in the age of global lockdowns. There will be targets to hit and expectations placed upon employees. These ambitions are only achievable if they are verbalised and realistic.

Protect Your Bubble
We have all developed a new way of working, so returning to an office may be a culture shock. People that live alone will be used to comparative silence. On the other hand, those with children have grown accustomed to noise levels comparable to a bowling alley in our workspace!

It’s possible that home working has changed the way you view social and professional interaction. Don’t give yourself a hard time if you feel that you are not ready for all-singing, all-dancing interactions with colleagues just yet. Imagine a bubble that reflects your personal boundaries, and keep it inflated at all times. If that means keeping yourself to yourself for a while, so be it.

Respect the Wishes of Others
Just as you need to protect your bubble, we all need to mindful of others. It may be tempting to offer hugs and handshakes to colleagues we have not seen in months. If your workplace friends welcome such physical interactions, then great. If not, under no circumstances force anybody into them.

The same goes for daily interactions once the dust settles. Not everybody will be happy with the idea of cramming into a boardroom for a meeting or standing over your desk while you explain something. It may take a little trial and error to learn everybody’s unique and individual quirks, so be patient and empathetic.

Protect Yourself Against Burnout
Nobody would say that the last year has been completely ideal, but there have arguably been some benefits. No commuting has granted more time, and many people have managed to spend precious additional time with their families, and above all, working from home can afford more opportunities for rest periods.

That’s the theory, at least. Many people have been working longer hours than ever at home, unable to psychologically switch off while the lines between working and personal lives have blurred. Either way, energy levels upon the return to the workplace must be managed.

If we try to pretend that nothing has changed, and we can all return to the patterns that defined our working lives pre-pandemic, that’s a recipe for burnout. Every one of us has experienced physical or emotional disturbance during this pandemic, to one extent or another.

Carrying this strain while attempting to replicate previous working patterns is likely to end in disaster. Ease your yourself back into commuting and on-site working gradually when needed, listening to your body and mind. Any sensible employer would prefer you to take your time adjusting and stay healthy than throw yourself into too much, too soon, and require time out.

Remember Lessons Learned During Lockdown
Ask yourself an important question – was working from home during the worst of the pandemic all bad? If there were any advantages, these should be carried forward to your return to the workplace.

Examples of this could have been greater efficiency, if you spent less time in meetings. If you managed to go this long without holding a meeting every hour, were they really necessary? Equally, you may have learned some prioritisation tactics that will come in similarly handy.

You may have discovered a little more about your preferred working patterns, too. If you enjoyed being home in time to eat dinner with your family, do not just fall into old habits of staying at work until midnight because that’s what you do. While this period marks a return to the tried and true, it’s also a potentially new beginning. It would be a shame to waste any opportunities uncovered during a crisis.

Key Take Homes

  • The world is no longer subject to lockdown, but some things have changed indefinitely. We must remember this while in the workplace.
  • Make it clear what level of interaction you are comfortable with and verbalise this. Ask your colleagues to do the same to prevent significant issues while we all adapt
  • Try to carry over any good habits developed during lockdown working. Our return is a clean slate, offering the chance to change the way we do business for the better
  • Be understanding, patient and empathetic with everybody – and yourself. We’re still living in unprecedented times

About LEAD Network Europe

The LEAD Network Europe is a non-profit and volunteer-led organisation whose mission is to attract, retain, and advance women in the consumer products and retail sector in Europe through education, leadership, and business development. The LEAD Network is run by and for its members, women and men, and we value every individual for their unique perspective. With a primary focus on promoting gender equality the organisation strives for the advancement of women of every race, ethnicity, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, age, educational background, national origin, religion, physical ability and lifestyle. Its vision is of a fair, diverse and vibrant industry where everyone can thrive. A diverse workforce where both men and women are enabled to contribute their full potential and lead their organisations to the next level of value creation. LEAD Network accounts for 18,000+ members – both women and men – from 81 countries.

For more information, please visit www.lead-eu.net