The pandemic has caused a shift in our daily lives, especially with work. Seventy-one percent of employed adults have been working from home to slow the COVID-19 spread. But, as vaccinations increase, the return to the office seems more likely than before. And people are feeling the pressure. According to our survey, 71% of Americans are at least slightly concerned about returning to normal — 20% of whom cited concern about returning to the workplace specifically. However, it isn’t just the office raising red flags. Thirty-five percent of concerned Americans are particularly worried about using public transportation.
From the ride in to after-work activities, everyone’s wondering what the new day-to-day will look like when returning to work. Here, we cover everything from mask mandates to new vaccine requirements, so you have all the information to make a safe return to work.
The Need for Vaccines to Safely Return to Work
The only way to safely return to work is if most employees are vaccinated and there’s herd immunity. Despite vaccine rollout speeding up across the country, employers must keep in mind that many people are still on the fence about getting the vaccine, and others can’t get it for medical reasons. The COVID-19 vaccine has also become politicized, meaning employees’ affiliation may be a deciding factor in whether they receive the injection or not.
Companies are looking for the right approach to encourage their employees to get vaccinated. Some companies, like Instacart, are offering stipends, while others are encouraging leaders to stress the importance of getting vaccinated to return to normal safely. Remember, you’ll still have to practice social distancing and wear masks while at work because other employees may not be vaccinated. But these aren’t the only concerns that companies and their employees are considering. The National Safety Council addressed a few, including:
- The vaccine’s effectiveness now and in the future.
- The number of vaccine doses and boosters needed, and how often.
- What herd immunity looks like for the country and states locally.
- State COVID-19 mandates, regulations and any exceptions.
- Keeping a record of employee vaccinations.
- Vaccine changes in the future to prevent COVID-19 spread.
Before returning to work, you may receive a survey from your employer asking if you’re vaccinated or if you plan to get the vaccine soon. Your company may also implement a mandatory vaccination policy for you to return to the office — like United Airlines. As of now, 40% of companies won’t require employees to be vaccinated before returning to work.
Effectiveness of COVID-19 Safety Protocols
You can expect many of the COVID-19 safety protocols to still be in place — such as hand-washing, waiting 6 feet apart and wearing a mask. Companies will also continue to conduct daily COVID-19 symptom screenings and temperature checks. But as you return to work, there may be some additional safety measures in place, including contact tracing and regular COVID-19 testing to help control the spread. You may notice one-way walking patterns, fewer lounge areas, more space between desks, and other safety measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19. Companies may also require masks, gloves, disinfectants, and increase sanitization efforts.
The Society for Human Resource Management shared a few other protocols your company may require:
- Video or phone conferencing for meetings instead of face-to-face.
- Staggered lunch or rest breaks.
- Alternating weeks in the office and working from home.
- Restricting business travel.
- Contactless deliveries.
However, there are early discussions around the effectiveness of some of these safety measures. The NSC is currently conducting multiple studies to determine the effectiveness of PPE in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and variants. You can expect specific PPE and sanitization tools to be around until more research and findings are available.
Understanding Mental Health Safety
The pandemic has led to more discussions about mental health safety and the need to recharge. Four out of 10 adults reported signs of anxiety or depression last year — up 30% from 2019. Before the pandemic, many companies normalized coming to work when sick and taking as little time off as possible to show their dedication to work. But the pandemic has put a spotlight on the emotional and mental well-being of employees.
Mental health safety at work means employees feel comfortable expressing their emotional, psychological and physical concerns. But mental health isn’t a one-time emotion. Emotions come in waves, especially when thinking about the pandemic. Think about virus spikes, mental health fatigue and other concerns that may impact your mental health and ability to work efficiently. Companies are preparing for these and other concerns with the following resources and more:
- Anonymous reporting for employees.
- Increasing Employee Assistance Programs.
- Flexible work arrangements.
- Mental health awareness training.
- Increased PTO.
Your company should also be preparing new safety and culture initiatives to create an inclusive and flexible work environment. That will likely include looking at the new definition of safety to address psychological and physical health concerns.
Companies must also prepare to face the mental health and well-being of those who miss the office but can’t return yet. Many employees are ready to return to work, but vaccine rollouts and COVID-19 safety and risk assessments are still being ironed out. Some people may feel isolated, anxious or depressed while working from home as others return to the office. Here’s what you can do to stay engaged and encouraged while working from home:
- Set a schedule and stick to it to separate work from your personal life.
- Create a workspace you love and keep it organized.
- Keep in touch with coworkers and loved ones to build more personal connections.
- Stay hydrated and eat healthy meals.
- Take breaks for meditation or exercise outdoors.
- Take PTO to spend time on personal hobbies and rest.
The COVID-19 pandemic has turned into a long and tumultuous year. There’s still a long road ahead, but we’re continuously seeing leaps in the right direction. The return to the workplace may look different with new guidelines and safety protocols. Remember to always reach out to your manager, a trusted colleague or HR for support and resources to ensure a smooth transition back. Slowly, but surely, we’re finding our way back to “normalcy.”
All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1276 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 31st March-1st April 2021. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all US adults (aged 18+).