Returning to the Workplace

The pandemic has affected all of our working lives, often in very different ways.  Whilst millions of workers in the UK have been placed on furlough by their employers, many keyworkers have had no alternative but to head to their daily place of work – whether that is a hospital, supermarket, school or another essential place of work.   But what about those who have not been placed on furlough and are in jobs that do not require them to be at their traditional place of work.

A recent report by ONS showed that in April 2020, almost half of all UK workers were working from home, at least some of the time.  And the majority of these were doing so as a direct result of the pandemic.

So, as restrictions begin to ease and millions of homeworkers start to think about returning to their previous places of work, what should people consider and how should they prepare – physically and mentally.


  • Know what to do: The practicalities of returning to work are a huge part of staying – and feeling – safe. You may find that your employer provides a re-induction or re-orientation so that everyone knows any new safety guidelines in the workplace, and if this isn’t provided, it’s okay to ask. It’s essential that everyone’s on the same page.


  • Stay alert: if there’s one thing we’ve learned during the COVID pandemic, it’s that advice and policies can change as quickly as we can keep up. We are not sure when or how rules or recommendations about face masks, hand sanitiser, distancing and cleaning will change, but they probably will. We all need to stay up-to-date for changes – whatever direction they take. Our employers have a responsibility to keep us updated but we have a responsibility to ourselves and our workmates to stay alert.


  • Stay safe: following government advice is a good start but staying safe might go beyond this for some individuals. Knowing your risks, identifying concerns in the workplace, and being practical about your needs at work are key. In the workplace, maintaining a safe environment and helping the people around you understand what they need to do to stay safe are essential. It may also be possible to blend home working with being in the workplace to help manage the number of people in a building at any time, and to enable safer, distanced working. Managers and team leaders may be able to help with provisions for blended working – especially if it’s proved effective during lockdown.


  • Ask for support when you need it: Living through a pandemic has left a lot of people with changed family circumstances, including childcare provisions and family responsibilities, and if you can talk to your managers about your needs, they should do what they can to support your needs within certain limits – the phrase to remember is ‘reasonable adjustments’.


  • Manage expectations: We’ve all been through a lot, so it’s okay to feel overwhelmed, or to not be at the top of your game straight away. We all might need to give ourselves and our team mates a little extra patience and support.


  • Get professional support if you’re struggling: Health anxiety, and physical or mental illness after living through a pandemic are bound to be common, and if you’re struggling, you’re certainly not alone. There are lots of professional support networks online, locally and nationally, and your GP is a good port of call if you’re overwhelmed or feel you can’t cope. Most of us have never lived through anything quite like this, and the after-effects are probably still to be seen.


  • Enjoy yourself: a shared experience, even something negative, is a bonding experience, and the camaraderie are an important part of getting through something like COVID. Starting to see friends and colleagues under more normal circumstances again is a positive step, and the start of the collective healing process. Rediscovering the experience of having people around you might feel a bit overwhelming to start with, but the friendships and relationships we form after a shared trauma are valuable and special.


Employers have new health and safety guidelines to follow, risk assessments to perform, and changing expectations. Enhanced cleaning, protective equipment, and social distancing are a large part of it, but it’s not just the practical side of things that matters.

The physical and psychological effects of living through a pandemic and lockdown are universal and it’s important that we take time to recognise the full extent of what we’ve lived through, and the way it’s affected us. Looking after ourselves and each other is the key element to a return to normality.

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