Countries around the world are beginning to reduce restrictions as the COVID-19 pandemic gradually subsides. For millions of people, this will mean returning to work in the office or another ‘on-site’ location in the coming weeks.
Many people will understandably feel anxious about taking this step. Even if you're not feeling personal anxiety about going back to work, you may still be concerned about how you can continue to stay safe after what for many has been several weeks or months at home.
This blog looks at how you can prepare to go back to work as governments around the world start to lift the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
Ask to Work from Home If You Can
It’s likely many of you have been working from home over the last few months, and if you have the choice to continue to do so then in most circumstances this should be encouraged.
Office-based businesses will likely need to ask at least some of their workforce to continue to work from home for an extended period, particularly if restrictions mean that office buildings can not return to full capacity. Some employers such as Facebook and Google have already announced they will allow employees that can work from home to do so for the rest of 2020.
Alternatively you may be able to adopt a phased approach to returning to work, only going in for a few days a week which will help you adjust back to a routine. If you are unsure or have concerns, talk to your employer or HR contact to understand the situation in your workplace.
Avoid Large Crowds During Your Commute
One of the main concerns about allowing people to head back to work is the potential for crowds to congregate on public transport, which could potentially result in the further spread of COVID-19.
Employers may stagger the working day with this in mind. However, in practical terms, it is likely to be very difficult to both maintain social distancing and ensure everyone can take the bus or train when they need to.
If you can, consider alternative routes such as walking or cycling to work. This will not only help you to avoid crowds but can also form part of your fitness regime. Even cutting public transport from a small part of your journey will be useful. If you have no way of getting to work other than via public transport, do what you can to work outside the usual ‘9 to 5’ to reduce your exposure to others as much as possible.
Be Ready to Keep Meetings Digital
Face to face meetings with clients and partners will be off the agenda for the rest of 2020 in many locations. It’s likely you will not be allowed to visit anyone else in their office or vice versa, so many of your meetings will remain virtual.
If you're fortunate enough to work somewhere with a large boardroom, then you might be able to hold some face to face presentations with colleagues. However you should ensure you abide by local public health advice and limit the number of people present as much as possible.
Safeguard Your Personal Hygiene
In most locations, employers will be required to put in place measures to protect you and your colleagues, but it is also worth having your own plan in place.
The first thing to remember is that the same personal hygiene measures that were encouraged during the pandemic will still apply. Wash your hands as frequently as possible, particularly after you touch door handles and handrails, visit the bathroom or use shared office equipment. Avoid touching your nose, eyes and mouth throughout the day too, and you may want to carry anti-bacterial gel with you.
While your employer should promote the cleaning of surfaces, you may also wish to do this yourself. Wipe down your desk, keyboard, and monitor with an anti-bacterial wipe regularly. Ideally you should do this every time you leave and return to the building.
If you’ve had less screen time than usual since lockdown, extended periods looking at the computer may strain your eyes. Plan regular breaks every 15 – 20 minutes so you can look away from the screen, even if only for 20 seconds.
Consider Investing in Your Own Personal Protective Kit
If you live in a country where the wearing of a face mask was not a societal norm pre-COVID-19, you may want to consider creating your own personal protective kit going forward.
This could include a face mask, anti-bacterial hand gel, surgical gloves, and wet wipes and tissues. If you are unable to purchase a medical mask, a face covering such as a scarf is a good alternative. You may wish to wear a mask and gloves when traveling to and from work, especially if you will be taking public transport.
Maintaining Social Distancing at Work
Employers should take the lead when it comes to putting distancing measures in place at the office. Expect to go into work and find desks much further apart, or screens between desks where space is tight. However you will also need to be considerate about social distancing when in shared areas such as kitchens, bathrooms and canteens.
Treat the elevator like public transport. Avoid it if you can and try to wear your protective kit if you do find yourself using it. Alternatively you could choose to take the stairs instead - another way to stay active as well as avoid the crowds!
Consider Your Lunch Preparation
The shared refrigerator is a common feature of many workplaces, not to mention communal coffee cups, plates, and cutlery. If your employer does not issue you with explicit guidance around these areas, make your own plan.
If possible you should bring your own cup, plate, and cutlery to work. If you usually take lunch into the office, buy a small cool bag so you don’t have to use the fridge and expose yourself to another shared surface.
If you will be using communal facilities, treat these like anything else and ensure you clean them before and after use. Even if items such a plates appear to be clean you should wash them yourself before use.
Preparing to Go Back to Work After Lockdown
Returning to the workplace after lockdown will be a big step for many people. Much will be different from the last time we went to the office and saw our colleagues in person.
Whether the ‘new normal’ will become more permanent will not be clear for some time. However in the short-term we can all take these simple steps to better prepare for our return to work, and help keep you, your colleagues, and your families safe.