As many bosses give the green light to return to the office, we discuss whether these plans will stall because employees still have real anxieties about this change in gear.

From small teams to corporations employing thousands, the fundamental thinking has likely been the same – how can we help employees feel safe in their work environment, maintain manageable level of flexibility, address any anxieties about the virus, and remain productive?

The Realia team has been able to use its office space as and when they needed to / would like to / felt safe to, in line with government protocols, right from the outset of the pandemic. With COVID-safe measures in place, a regular cleaning schedule and limited number of people allowed in at any one time, the team was invited to make their own decisions on whether they used the space.

Across our team of 11, two members were unfortunate to contract the virus, many of us have had periods of self-isolation and a couple of the team with underlying health issues preferred to ‘stay indoors’. And that’s ok. We have collaborated on a hybrid working model to ensure the flexibility and benefits we have experienced from remote working can be continued in the future. The model, based on a survey and discussions with the whole team works for Realia as a business, but crucially for all of the individuals within it. Without any disruption to clients, productivity or creativity. And we’ll introduce it when the time is right for us.

For larger businesses the considerations will be slightly different, especially around the opening up of vast office spaces. How do you ensure that pressure from peers to ‘be seen’ or an ‘unspoken’ bias about what is an acceptable balance of home and office attendance, is not creating anxieties amongst the workforce? How do you keep the office a safe environment both through sanitization processes and employees’ behaviours?

One thing that we have seen being adopted by some businesses is a traffic light system – where every member of the team entering the office selects a red, amber or green wristband to let their teammates know how they’re feeling about the virus situation on a daily basis.

Red = quite anxious/concerned and need my space.

Amber = I feel ok but I’m being cautious.

Green = I’m feeling fine about the situation.

Ultimately, we all want the country to get back on its feet, and although we are far from being COVID-free, a return to face-to-face interactions is going to be part of the journey. Each company will need to create its own unique way of managing the return-to-work process, but that should not be at the expense of an employee’s physical health and mental well-being, nor be decided behind closed doors.

Communication between the business stakeholders and employees is key to implementing a successful transition from the home office back to the workplace. In many senses the pandemic forced an awakening of the mutual benefits of home-working, and as such we need to proceed at a measured pace with our return plans and avoid ‘jumping the lights’.


NW – August 2021