How To Embrace The New Normal In The Office
The term “new normal” has been thrown around a lot this year. When the pandemic shook the world, we moved into a new phase of social distancing, remote work, and increased online interactions to stop the spread. It appears just as we’ve gotten used to the new normal we were forced into adopting, another new normal is fast approaching. As offices reopen and we head back to the workplace, we need to readjust our thinking and actions once more.
While the world assumed that everything would revert to the way it was before the pandemic, this is not the case. COVID-19 is still a real threat, and needs to be properly managed—even if the number of active cases has decreased. A second wave is a reality, and if we don’t change how our offices operate, we may be fueling the fire.
A Business Response To The New Normal
Businesses need to navigate these uncharted waters and manage a workforce that has become decentralized as a result of being forced to work remotely for an extended period of time. Different areas may have different lockdown restrictions in place, which can make returning to an office environment challenging.
In most cases, businesses have taken note of the successes that have come about because of remote working. A hybrid model is currently a hot topic amongst business owners and their employees. The cost savings of not having office space have played a role in deciding this, but the need for human interaction in the workspace is one that cannot be ignored—or replaced entirely with virtual meetings.
The lockdown has shown us that there’s no blanket approach to business. It’s highlighted the fact that different sectors will not necessarily respond well to the initial new normal, nor will they respond to further changes in the future. This can be because of insufficient infrastructure to enable the change, or purely due to the nature of the business.
Managing The New Normal
In order to facilitate the new normal, there are a few steps that may assist you in the process.
- Identify and respond to change
If we look back at the pandemic, we’ll remember how some businesses thrived, while others faced unavoidable ruin. Those that could pivot, and survive lockdowns, operating restrictions, and a myriad of other pandemic-related issues had to identify where they could make changes that would keep them afloat.
Wherever possible, business resiliency and continuity need to be a priority when managing change. This is not a once-off event, it needs to be an ongoing process. If you’re not flexible in your approach, it’s tough to pivot in a way that meets changing circumstances and demands. Whether this means rotating the days employees are in the office to limit contact, or implementing new hygiene protocols, changes must be embraced in order to be successful.
- Consider returning to a new normal
While business models were forced to change, it should come to be expected that at some point this will change again. The pandemic is still a part of our lives and needs to be factored into any return scenario.
How do we ensure the safety, health, and wellbeing of everyone within the business? How do we ease their concerns about rejoining a world that’s still battling a life-threatening illness? And how do we make everyone feel safe while still generating revenue?
While some employees will be more than happy to return to the office, a good deal may still be wary of potential exposure to the virus. Determining a plan of return will involve active discussions with employees to find out what their feelings are about establishing a way forward. Any employees suffering from anxiety, or with comorbidities should be considered, and alternative plans made where possible to accommodate them.
- Implementing the return
In search of a more “normal” reality, many people have eagerly been awaiting the email that gives them permission to return to the office.
You need to determine how many people can safely fit in the office space, while following social distancing protocols. Besides this, regular temperature screenings and health checks may need to be added to the daily check-in routine.
We cannot forget the importance of hygiene and using good quality sanitizers to curb the spread of the virus. You will need to develop a framework for employees to follow, should they make their way back to the office. Any new regulations should be clearly published and displayed in a prominent place.
- Determine what works
As the workforce returns, it’s important to note what new guidelines are working effectively, and what needs to be readjusted. This will form the basis of the new normal, and many businesses have already started this process.
This is where the COVID-19 guidelines become common practice, and the fear of working in a group setting becomes less severe. You need to reflect constantly on what you have done and what you still need to do.
- Embracing the change
This point is where everyone hopes to be. Having a normal 9-5 life that has structure, human interaction, and stronger sense of purpose—all while navigating a pandemic.
When businesses reach this point, they’ve re-established themselves in a way that accommodates the changing times. Constant monitoring of the global crisis will also shape how businesses operate, and business resiliency will once again need to be a priority—although it should have been one the entire time.
A Healthy Attitude Is The Way Forward
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we need to be ready to embrace change at the drop of a hat.
Change is never easy, and employers should help employees adapt in any way they can. Stress can take its toll in difficult times, and wherever possible, employers should encourage their workforce to look after their mental health, eat healthily, and prioritize their well-being.
Employees who are happy, healthy, and feel like they’re being taken care of should feel less stressed when returning to the office. Knowing that their employer cares about their mental and physical well-being will make them more relaxed during an otherwise tumultuous time.
This focus on health and welfare extends to the following of basic COVID-19 guidelines in the workspace. By creating and sticking to simple yet effective sanitizing and socializing practices, group spaces can be kept safe too.
Our environment is only as safe as we allow it to be, and the new normal requires everyone to play their part.