The PLACEmaking blog

10 tips for returning to the workplace


Fintan Burke


May 15, 2021
After more than a year of lockdown, remote working, and meeting-by-laptop the prospect of returning to the workplace may feel a little strange.


Recognise that your workplace may not feel the same

Whether it’s greater integration of flexible working or a redesign of the workspace, chances are the workplace you return to won’t feel the same to the one you left a year ago. The pandemic has altered attitudes to how people want to work and many organisations are keen to facilitate new demands. Be prepared for this shift and make plans for how to manage through the transition.


Review the changes your organisation has made during the pandemic

Chances are your organisation has had to make a number of significant changes to its way of working over the last 12 months. No one has been through anything like this before so be prepared to learn what worked well, what could be better and what needs to be abandoned! It’s well worth discussing with others to review of the innovative ways your organisation adapted to the pandemic and think about what initiatives could be built on to maintain a momentum of fresh thinking.


Reintroduce your workplace

Maybe you’ve moved to a smaller premises, or maybe the workplace has been redesigned while people have been away. Maybe the office as you know it has been altered to make greater use of remote working. You may even have team members that have joined and worked for you organisation without ever actually seeing the space where they are going to spend part of their working lives. It is important to manage the return to the workplace so that team members have a chance to get used to the new space and way of working. Talk to your team and management about establishing a structured approach to reintroduce the space and any changes to the way you are going to work. Stay connected and talk to other members of your team to ensure people feel confident about sharing their lockdown experiences.


Clarity in communication

With the multiple lockdowns lasting so long many people will be anxious about the transition to a new normal – even if they don’t feel comfortable saying so. Look out for each others wellbeing and make sure that clear lines of communication are established and that other members of your team feel they have an established means of sharing any concerns they have during the coming months.


Be mindful of those who had to enter the workforce in 2020

Entering the workforce for the first time can be difficult and hard to navigate at the best of times. This is even harder to do during a global pandemic. Make sure that those members of your team who are just starting out, or have transitioned from another field, have the support and guidance they need by creating buddy groups to help them navigate aspects of the organisation they’ve never known.


Organise events for your team to socialise

Many organisations have discovered that they can work as if not more efficiently remotely, but the importance of social, in person interaction has also been keenly demonstrated. If there is opportunity to do so, organise informal and semi social events like coffee mornings or set aside non-work time for your team to catch up.


Make time to (re)introduce your team

After more than a year of video call working, being back in the office and around the people you work with may take some getting used to. Whether members of your team have never met face to face, or had been colleagues for years before the pandemic, making sure your team is introduced to one another and is clear on their respective roles and responsibilities can help your team successfully navigate the return to the workspace. Introduce yourself to team members that are new to the organisation, and set time aside to catch up with those that you worked with before the pandemic.


Anticipate anxiety and be prepared to help

After more than a year of a global pandemic, anxiety about returning to work is only natural. Whether its concern of having to physically share space with others or worries about their continuing position in the organisation, some members of you team may struggle with the transition out of the pandemic. Suggest everyone focuses on being ‘kind to themselves’ during the initial period (and beyond), recognise they have collectively been through something very significant and encourage them to look out for others who may be struggling with similar worries.


Understand flexible working is here to stay

During the COVID-19 pandemic remote working went mainstream. While some will be happy with the return to office there will be many others that will want to retain a greater flexibility in their working lives going forward. Try to establish what works best both you and your organisation and build upon that. The pandemic has shown that different ways of working are possible, work with your organisation to establish an appropriate approach going forward.


Your HQ may get smaller, and that’s a good thing

Where once a bigger building was assumed to be a sign of an organisation’s success and prestige the pandemic has pushed many to re-think the way they view the spaces that house their HQs. With many organisations looking to integrate more flexibility into the way they work after the pandemic, expect the size and functions of HQ to change to reflect this. Expect smaller but, more importantly, better quality workspaces to become more commonplace in the near future.

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Fintan Burke
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