By Craig Bülow
After more than a year of lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, companies are considering reopening offices to their employees.
It is the responsibility of entrepreneurs to consider the associated psychological challenges and to find ways to reintegrate employees into the office safely, sustainably and in a way that promotes wellbeing.
According to Deloitte, 21% of organizations expect a return to normal personal work in their offices, while 68% are considering hybrid models with a mix of virtual and personal work. The number of employees looking to return to the office increased from 52% in February to 61% in May. A likely reason for the increase is social isolation as a result of the lockdown.
The exchange with colleagues not only feels good, it also has advantages for the company. Maintaining culture was cited as the top concern for companies considering a virtual or hybrid model, with 19% also concerned about effective collaboration. Personal collaboration with colleagues can both help maintain a good work culture and promote collaboration.
It’s also important to consider the mental health implications of remote working. Those who switched to remote work due to the lockdown reported feeling less connected to colleagues (67%), exercising less (46%), musculoskeletal problems (39%) and sleeping disorders (37%) %). In addition, more than half (56%) said they found it harder to switch off because they were forced to work longer hours or because it was difficult to separate work and personal life.
Promotion of socialization
While employees may be interested in reconnecting and socializing at work, we cannot expect relationships between employees to return to normal immediately. A year gap can affect relationships in unpredictable ways, not to mention the added pressure of working in close proximity. We are all used to working in a silo of one in our own space.
Switching to collaborative work in a shared space could therefore lead to increased stress and potential for conflict. Even if the experience is positive, the increase in personal conversation brought about by returning to personal work can disrupt business.
One way to ease the transition is to schedule informal social events to allow people to share and reconnect on a personal level before facing the pressures of working closely together again.
Of course, it’s important to be careful about safety. Inviting everyone back to the office on the same day would increase the risk of infection and cause concern for some people who may have developed an understandable sensitivity to the risk of infection. An outdoor event, such as a company barbecue, reduces the risk of contagion and allows for easier, more natural social distancing.
Connection with nature
One of the benefits of working from home for many people is the opportunity to reconnect with nature. Whether it’s going for a walk, playing with pets, taking breaks in the garden or surrounded by indoor plants – working from home seems to give people more opportunities to connect with nature.
This biophilia or “love of life” is a real phenomenon that has measurable benefits for wellbeing. In fact, a work environment with natural elements has been found to increase employee wellbeing by about 15%, but most (58%) of employees work in environments with no natural green and 47% in an environment without natural light.
Employers can make sure they care about their employees’ mental health and wellbeing by ensuring that office spaces have plenty of natural light and lots of greenery. Adding some plants to the office or installing a skylight can hurt your budget, but the positive effects can be significant and make the transition back to the office easier.
Some employers and workplace managers go a step further and install vertical garden space in the office. These lush green spaces provide both an immediate and lasting connection with nature and a potential source of healthy vegetables and herbs for staff lunches.
Spending time tending to the plants in these vertical gardens can also add to their wellbeing. However, if you don’t have the space to install an indoor garden area, you can consider contacting a local community garden to see if it’s open for your co-workers to help out for some time .
Days of absence
A great way to combine socializing with being in touch with nature is company vacation days. This does not mean that the work will simply be relocated to another location or under a different guise. Instead, it should be an opportunity to do something fun together as colleagues in a natural, green outdoor area.
You could go to a forest together to get to know different plants and animals, for example. Or maybe find a meditation retreat in a natural setting. Maybe you could take them all with you to help out together in a sanctuary, or even learn how to care for a colony!
Whatever you choose to do, it can be helpful to do it in a natural, outdoor setting and have a social element to help team building. This helps to maintain social distance when necessary, to improve working relationships, to reconnect employees with one another and with nature, and shows that you are invested in your employees and their well-being.
As a business owner or office manager, it will be incredibly important to make sure the transition back to office work is as smooth as possible. Without careful consideration and management, the reintroduction of office work is likely to lead to stress and anxiety, affecting working relationships, efficiency and wellbeing.
But if you think about what your employees are reacting to and carefully reconnect people on a personal level, you can increase the wellbeing and loyalty of your employees and create a much healthier work environment.
Craig Bülow is the founder of the Away Days Group. Corporate Away Days is a corporate wellness events company that offers engaging, inspiring and exciting events on the topics of mindfulness / wellbeing and reward / recognition.
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