5 things to expect when you return to work in the office

As lockdown eases and employers carry out Covid-19 risk assessments, you may soon be able to return to the office.

After months of working remotely, there may be things you are looking forward to – and some aspects of remote working that you may miss. As life slowly returns to normal, here are five things to expect from the transition.

1. Rigorous hygiene procedures will be in place

Before you return to the office, employers should complete a thorough risk assessment to ensure that you and your co-workers will be in an entirely safe working environment.

This risk assessment will identify which activities could cause the transmission of Covid-19, how likely this is to occur, and how to avoid the activity or control the risk that the activity presents. A completed risk assessment means you won’t have to worry about getting ill or doing activities that put you at risk.

In practice, the measures introduced to maintain a safe environment are probably the same as those you’ve already been following elsewhere. Much like supermarkets, retail stores, and restaurants, your office will be deep cleaned regularly and you will have access to hand sanitiser and any necessary PPE (personal protective equipment), such as masks.

Although you’ll need to be more mindful of hygiene in the office than before lockdown, none of the precautions are likely to be safety measures you aren’t already familiar with.

2. Your office and desk space may have been reorganised

Returning to the office will be a welcome change for some, particularly those with a desire for routine or those with an ad hoc home office in a crowded corner of the living room. You’ll get to enjoy a clearer boundary between work and home, making it easier to switch off at the end of the day and maintain a better work-life balance.

However, you may need to adapt to some changes in your usual office environment and adjust your old routines.

Your usual seating arrangements may change to allow for greater distance between desks. Screens between each desk could also be in place to help avoid contact with colleagues and limit shared breathing space.

These safety measures are unlikely to get in your way, you may even enjoy the added privacy of increased distance and your own enclosed space. Not only should you keep your distance from each other’s work areas, but hotdesking will no longer be an option. Your desk will truly be your own private bubble.

3. Social distancing will limit your face-to-face time with colleagues

Whether you’ve enjoyed the peace and quiet of work without chattering colleagues in the background, or can’t wait to have a meeting without family walking in on your Zoom call, there will be mixed reactions to the social aspects of life back in the office.

You will need to continue observing all the usual social distancing guidelines. To help people keep their distance from each other, one-way systems in corridors and open spaces may be in place. To further limit contact with others you will most likely have restrictions on the number of people allowed in canteens, restrooms, lifts, or meeting rooms at any given time.

Additional safety measures may be in place in higher risk areas such as kitchens, where there may be a ban on the use of kettles and fridges to avoid cross-contamination of your food and drinks. So, remember to bring a flask of your caffeinated beverage of choice to work if you need it.

Your return to the office may also be phased in one form or another. Your work shifts may be staggered or perhaps you will work one week in and one at home to help maintain proper social distancing. Even if your office is large enough to accommodate everyone at a distance, you may have more vulnerable co-workers staying at home to avoid the commute to work.

4. The digital tools adopted during lockdown will remain

During this transitional period back to office life, you are likely to continue using the software and other digital tools adopted during lockdown. Messaging someone on Slack or having a quick Zoom call rather than speaking to them face to face will help you maintain proper social distancing measures.

Your clients may also appreciate the continued use of tools such as video conferencing, information portals, and secure cloud storage. These have created added flexibility for when and how your clients can access your services.

Even after it is safe to return to life as usual, businesses may opt to keep these digital channels of communication and access to information open. After all, remote working during lockdown has proven how useful they can be. Continued use during a phased return to work will demonstrate how they can reliably make your life easier – even when things are back to normal.

5. Remote working and flexible hours could become the new normal

The host of digital tools and software adopted during lockdown have had a significant impact on how you work. They might also affect how you continue to work in the future.

Now that these digital tools are a part of your work processes, people may want to continue taking advantage of them. As remote working becomes more accepted, you may end up spending less time in the office.

Lockdown has also highlighted the benefits of flexible hours. Working around childcare arrangements, grocery shopping outside of peak times, and looking after vulnerable family and neighbours has meant that the classic nine-to-five day hasn’t been sustainable for some.

This collective realisation could change the way we approach work and office culture. Even after lockdown and Covid-19 are in the past, your working life may feel the effects. You may not only be working from home more often but also be able to work during the hours that best suit your lifestyle and other commitments.

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