Remote Working

How to reduce anxiety about going ‘back to work’

Lydia Watson

Ah, the office. Not a biscuit-wanting child, yapping dog, noisy neighbour, or annoying housemate in sight. For some, going back to the office is a welcome escape from the perils of remote working. But for others? Not so much.

If you’re encouraging your employees to come back in – whether once a month, weekly, or full-time – then it’s important to be aware of anxiety about returning to work

‘Back to work’ anxiety: 5 causes and what you can do to help

1. COVID-19 itself

With a fast vaccine roll-out and society reopening, it’s easy to forget that the virus is still a threat – especially to some groups. In the UK, many of your workforce will be waiting for their first vaccine – let alone their second – and may have vulnerable people in their lives to protect, as well as themselves. 

What you can do: 

  • Be patient: Hopefully, in the next year, any threat will be mitigated. Don’t risk alienating your employees in the meantime, if they’re choosing to stay cautious
  • Be safe: From allowing people to travel outside of busy times, to setting up stringent hand-gelling situations in the office, mitigate the risk as much as possible

2. Mixing with people

Some employees might feel fine about coming into the office, but uneasy about the prospect of 30+ people in one room. Maybe because of coronavirus concerns, maybe as it’s a tiring prospect after so long. And unless you’ve got an impressively expansive office, there’s not a lot of ways of getting around that if you all pile back in.

What you can do:

  • Start small: Keep numbers at a minimum at first, especially if you’re staying partly remote – and set up a schedule to rotate teams or people who collaborate often
  • Go outdoors: If you’re keen to get everyone in the same place, why not use a local park (or generous beer garden) for a combined strategy/catch-up session?

3. Commuting to the office

It might be the journey in that’s the problem, not the office itself. Playing sardines on the underground, unreliable bus timetables, traffic jams, perilous cycle paths – a lot of employees have enjoyed avoiding spending an hour or more of their day in uncomfortable circumstances.

What you can do:

  • Flexible timings: Let people skip rush hour by being flexible. Early finishes, late starts, half-days – even if you have ‘core hours’ that everyone’s in, it’ll take the pressure off
  • Warm welcomes: Commute aside, help people start their day off well by laying on decent coffee, breakfast, snacks, and instating a ‘no meetings before 10 am’ rule

4. Performance expectations

After waves of redundancies, furloughs, business closures, and a difficult job market, it’s unsurprising that not everyone is particularly confident about their job. Going back in the office might feel daunting for that reason – with imposter syndrome causing fears of being ‘exposed’, especially if they joined the company during lockdown.

What you can do:

  • Refresher chats: Like you would after extended leave, sit down for a ‘back to work’ chat and go through everything clearly – from their high points so far, to next steps
  • New targets: Everyone likes to know what they’re doing, so treat this as a fresh start to set their next targets – whether KPI-related, or something less tangible

5. No more remote working

Many employees are reluctant to return to the office for one reason: they like the freedom of flexible working. Relinquishing that will be a big fear, due to a lack of trust that organisations will maintain WFH policies post-coronavirus. Take that choice away, and resignation letters may not be far behind.

What you can do:

  • Consider going hybrid: It will take a lot of careful consideration, but a hybrid approach – part office, part remote – might keep everyone happy, and be worth the effort
  • Make the office better: If the office is better than being at home, they will come. Think aircon, snacks, breakout areas, drinks cabinets, and regular social events

Use our surveys, and prevent work-related anxiety

The advice we’ve given might help… but your best bet is hearing it directly from your people. Use one of our targeted surveys for a clear understanding, thanks to powerful language analysis tech and research-led question sets. We’ve got lots to choose from, but these two might help:

  • ‘Return to Work’ survey: understand how your people feel about returning to the office, and understand the specifics concerns they have
  • ‘Wellbeing’ survey: check in on the mental, emotional, physical, and social wellbeing of your team and see the effect of returning to the office

Get in touch to find out more:

It’s time to start the conversation

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