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Returning to the Workplace after Lockdown

27 Apr 2021


Practical advice, useful tips and expert insight to help everyone get back to work, better.

What a difference a year makes. COVID-19 has changed the way businesses operate the world over. And in the UK, as restrictions ease, employers and managers are working hard to develop new workplace practices, while also taking greater care of staff wellbeing than ever before.

But where do you begin? And how far do you take it? What support is out there to make sure you’re doing the best you can – for your employees, and yourself?

Together with Bupa, we’ve put together some practical advice and useful tips to help you negotiate the challenges you face when implementing the ‘new normal’ in your workplace.

Here’s some good places to start:

One-way systems. Where possible, clearly mark out routes and signs for a one-way system, to stop people bumping into each other unnecessarily.

Stagger start times. As well as avoiding overcrowding at the building entrance, it’ll help your employees to avoid public transport at rush hour, too.

One-metre plus distance. Keep workstations at least one metre apart. If possible, make it two.

Hand sanitiser stations. Make sure everyone has easy access to hand sanitiser, especially in areas like entrances and desk spaces.

Face coverings. It’s not a hard-and-fast rule to wear face coverings at work, but support your workers if they choose to.


Supporting staff through their worries

It’s important to remember that everyone’s emotional response to the pandemic is different. And all responses are valid.

The Office for National Statistics reports a rise in anxiety levels across the UK. One of the main factors people cite is their work, including concerns related to working from home.

Research from Bupa Health Clinics has highlighted particular worries that office workers have about going back into work, with 65% of people feeling anxious about their return.

So, what is it that office workers are concerned about?

46% - overcrowding in social areas at work

42% - difficulty social distancing

38% - commuting

37% - the workplace not being clean enough

27% - losing their current work-life balance

With anxiety levels rising, it’s likely to be affecting people in your workplace too. So here’s some of the things you can do.

Support bereaved colleagues
Sadly, lots of people across the country have lost loved ones due to COVID-19. As a manager, you should be caring and compassionate when a staff member is coping with a bereavement. Offer your condolences and ask if they’d like time off to grieve, and whether they want others in the company to know. Remember, every bereavement is different.

Be flexible with the transition back
Some people will be really keen to come back and see the colleagues they’ve missed. Others will be a bit daunted by emerging out of lockdown, using public transport, and mixing with people again. Allowing your staff to gradually transition back into full time working hours if possible, is likely to help, especially for furloughed employees.

Include anyone who’s still working from home
Some employees won’t be able to come back yet, because they’re shielding or live with vulnerable people. Think about whether they might feel isolated by this, and if so, how you can keep them included. Others may prefer working at home to their previous arrangements. This is a good time to review your current processes. Do you need everyone to work from the workplace? Or can start to switch to a more home-based approach?

Manage conflict
When people have different preferences and needs, an ‘us and them’ culture can quickly develop. It’ll be easier for those in the workplace to have informal chats about work and those still home-working could get left out. Keeping meetings virtual for now may help to foster a feeling of unity. As a manager, you’ll be used to juggling competing needs, but keep an eye out for conflict.

Be mindful of individual boundaries
Encourage your staff to be open and talk about their individual needs. COVID-19 has changed life for all of us in different ways. You might have staff who have had COVID-19 or supported a loved one through it. They may be classed as vulnerable or have someone at home who is.

Encourage colleagues to re-establish connections
Socialising with colleagues is an important part of the working day and great for morale. Bupa’s Workplace Wellbeing Census found that colleagues have a positive impact on wellbeing for one in two people. So find ways to interact and meet safely, all while following social distancing guidelines.



Looking to the future

Of course, much is still uncertain, and the workplace as we knew it has probably changed. But this doesn’t mean we can’t take some positives from what’s happened. Businesses across the UK have done an incredible job of adapting quickly, creating new ways of working, and virtually supporting their teams.

So this is a good time to reflect on what ‘normal’ used to be, and to understand how your employees would really feel about going back to the exact way that things were previously. We might find that the pandemic has created a new way of working that could make the workplace healthier and happier.

Five tips to take away:

1. Prepare for change. Plan for changes to the physical environment and how your team works, to keep everyone as safe and healthy as possible.

2. Face any worries. Address worries that your team may have about coming back into the workplace and establish whether any team members need particular support.

3. Be flexible. Different team members will probably need different support and working arrangements in the coming months.

4. Build team morale. Anticipate any potential conflicts, for example between those coming in and those still at home. Take steps to address them.

5. Stay positive. Try to take some positives from everything that’s happened. Look at how the situation might have changed things for your team and your business in a positive way, and build on that.



We want to help keep you feeling your best and your business thriving – especially now, which is why we work with health insurance broker, Healthier Intermediaries, to make finding the right cover for you simpler.

As an IoD member, you benefit from 10% discount* on Bupa By You health insurance.

0800 030 8007

Find out more

* Applies to eligible Institute of Directors members on quotes for new Bupa By You policies. Discount will be reviewed on 22/10/2021 and any changes will apply to renewals and new quotes thereafter. Quotes are valid for 14 days. Terms and conditions apply.

Institute of Directors is an introducer to Healthier Intermediaries Ltd. Healthier Intermediaries Ltd is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered in England and Wales No: 9886202. Registered office: Upper Level Suite 2, 3 Hawke Street Business Park, Hawke Street, Sheffield S9 2SU.

Bupa health insurance is provided by Bupa Insurance Limited. Registered in England and Wales No. 3956433. Bupa Insurance Limited is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and Prudential Regulation Authority. Arranged and administered by Bupa Insurance Services Limited, which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered in England and Wales No. 3829851. Registered office: 1 Angel Court, London EC2R 7HJ.

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