Jessica joined RWA in 2018, having graduated with a First Class Honours degree in Film Studies. Her role as a content designer involves developing new and engaging e-learning modules as well as assisting in the creation of articles for Insight.
As businesses start to resume regular operations, many office workers are beginning to feel uncertain about returning to office life after months of working remotely. The lockdown has affected us in different ways, so it is only natural that many employees – myself included – are worried about what lies ahead in the upcoming months. With this in mind, I have decided to share my experience of the first few days in the workplace of the ‘new normal’.
Even with the lockdown in place, work has not stopped, rather, it has moved to a more domestic setting. As much as I enjoyed working from home, the work/life balance was difficult to maintain, even with the boost in productivity. Without the daily commute to break up the day, the 9-5 hours of a regular work period have blurred to the point where I have increased my work hours without realising. I constantly say to myself: “I’ll just add this bit and then I’ll finish”, all the while working through my usual lunch break and beyond. For me, going back was essential for getting back to a sense of normality and narrowly avoiding burnout.
In the days leading up to going back, there was a lot to think about. What was the commute on the bus going to be like? How many of us are coming in? How different is the office culture going to be? Has anyone watered the plants in the kitchen? Alright, the last one was not really a huge concern, but it was many of the rational (and irrational) questions I had asked myself. Fortunately, most of these were answered by our HR Manager keeping us informed on all the measures put in place to ensure we felt safe.
Alongside managing concerns from staff, the business has had to navigate new health and safety and social distancing requirements in compliance with government and HSE guidelines. A staggered opening has allowed us to come in at our own discretion, making it easier to avoid the risks of everyone showing up all at once. Systems have been set in place to comply with the most recent guidelines, including hand sanitisers and the arrangement of desks.
On the first day back, the buzzword of the day was ‘weird’. The office was eerily silent, no radio blasting the latest hits, no tapping of keyboards or the general sounds of office ambiance, just the heavy atmosphere that has lingered since the day we left back in March. Even the commute on the bus was quieter than normal. With less staff in the building, it was strange to just walk around and reflect on all the changes since we were last here.
Despite this, there was never a point where I felt unsafe. It was almost a relief to see colleagues I had only been able to see over Zoom over the last five months. Having a change of scenery and the option to leave early to continue working from home also made things easier to settle back into the office environment.
The worst part of going back was the anxiety of not knowing what to expect. Once I got over that and settled in, it was almost like the last five months had not happened. Having the flexibility and the option to return at our own pace has been an essential starting point in adapting to the new normal. Like most things, it is going to take time to recover from the effects of the pandemic. Empathy is going to be key to encouraging employees who are still worried about returning and ensure that the mental health and wellbeing of staff is being cared for.
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