As employees return to the workplace after working from home for an extended period of time, anxiety levels are high. The pandemic has had a significant impact on everyone. Many people are still dealing with the ramifications of it.

And the workplace is now a different place than it was. Office spaces may have been moved or reconfigured. There may be empty desks if certain coworkers retired, quit, or were laid off over the past year. Some people may feel uncomfortable being in close proximity with their coworkers, so they may avoid gathering together for lunch or chatting around the water cooler. For many people, the fear of COVID-19 is still strong.

So what can be done to make employees feel more comfortable with this new workplace environment? Author Rachel Feintzeig has a few suggestions:

  • Ask questions – Find out what employees need to feel safe and do their work effectively. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that everyone feels the same way you do. Talk about it, or send out a questionnaire. Try to be empathic, and do your best to accommodate peoples’ requests.
  • Be flexible – If possible, give employees the ability to choose what hours they will be in the office. Evaluate them based on the quality of their work, and not on the time of day they do it.
  • Create separate spaces – If your office has an open floor plan, you may want to consider creating small, separate office spaces that people can use if they don’t feel comfortable working in close proximity with their coworkers. This could also be an ideal place for people to work when they really need some quiet time to buckle down and focus.
  • Don’t change or increase the workload – Try not to make major changes to the type of work that people are assigned to do or increase people’s workload. Transitioning back to working in the office is a stressful process, so it’s a good idea to keep everything else fairly static. In addition, if workloads remain steady, you’ll be able to see if there’s a drop in productivity. A small drop is to be expected as people adjust to their new working situation, but it should return to normal over time.

Feintzeig, R. (2021, May 17). How to rally a jittery workforce. The Wall Street Journal, p. A13.