For many workplaces, the COVID-19 pandemic means that working from home is a safer option to combat an unprecedented public health emergency. While the pandemic is still affecting people around the world, here in Canada many Canadians are now vaccinated. As scientists learn more about the virus, and as vaccination rates increase, public health directives have changed. Now, in many provinces, employers have been given the green light to have employees return to the office. But after a year and a half of working remotely, there are some challenges involved in making this transition.
Obstacles to a Smooth Return
For many workers, returning to the pre-COVID “norm” as far as work arrangements may not be something they’re looking forward to. It’s certainly not as easy as flicking a switch and having your employees happily return to the office. There are three main obstacles to a smooth return.
For many people, COVID-19 is a source of anxiety. What will happen to me if I catch it? Am I going to get critically ill or will I die from COVID-19? What if I catch it and then pass it on to my elderly parents? These types of thoughts are just a sample of the kind of anxiety that many people may be feeling about COVID-19. Returning to the workplace could very well increase this anxiety. A return to the office means employees are expanding their exposure to other people, which can potentially expand their exposure to the virus. This anxiety can be a real obstacle to a smooth return.
- The Commute
For workers who previously commuted to work, working remotely has one huge benefit: no commute. Many employees have saved a significant amount of time and money by not commuting. It has also meant less stress; no waiting in traffic jams or running to catch a bus. As a result, some workers are not keen to return to the office because it means a return to the commute.
- Reduced Flexibility
For many people, the other big obstacle to a smooth return to the workplace is the loss of the flexibility they enjoyed while working remotely. When working from home employees likely had increased flexibility in their scheduling, which allowed them to create a different relationship between work time and “me” time – sometimes better, sometimes worse. If that flexibility is removed when workers return to the office, some employees may struggle with the transition back to the office.
Supporting the Transition
There are a number of ways that you can support a smooth transition back to the office. The goal (as always) is to have a positive work environment. Employee benefits can be an important tool in helping with this transition.
- Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) One of the best ways you can support your employees in returning to work in the office is to provide them with access to (and promote the use of) an Employee and Family Assistance program. An employee and family assistance program can help address many of the obstacles to a smooth return.Free short-term counselling through the EFAP can help employees to work through any anxiety they may feel about COVID-19 and their return to the workplace. The employee and family assistance program also offers online articles and toolkits both related specifically to COVID-19 and about anxiety in general. Just having these tools available is not enough – you need to promote them to employees and encourage them to get the most out of their benefit plan. The EFAP is a great resource for the transition.
- Health Benefits Sponsoring employee benefits (such as health and dental coverage) can also help with the transition back to an in-person work environment. Employees with coverage are more likely to fill the prescriptions they’re given as well as seek out other health practitioners to improve their health. Healthy employees usually have less stress and are less likely to become severely ill than those with underlying or untreated health conditions. This can help remove the anxiety some may feel about COVID-19 and a return to the workplace.Coverage for things like massage therapy (to reduce stress) and a visit to the dietician (to help make healthy food choices) can all contribute to better overall health. Healthy employees are happier and more productive, and they’re also likely to deal with change better.
- Solicit Feedback The best way to support a smooth transition back to the office is to listen to your employees. Solicit feedback so you know if they’re looking forward to returning to the office or if they’re feeling anxious. Take into account their preferences when planning for the transition and consider ways that you can incorporate their feedback. Perhaps a slower transition back to the office will help ease the transition or a hybrid working arrangement where employees still have opportunities to work at home some of the time.Keep in mind that working from home has become the new “norm” for your employees. Failing to hear their concerns and incorporate those concerns into your action plan can have negative effects on employee retention and morale.
A Successful Return
A successful return to the office will help you maintain high employee morale and a cohesive employee group. You’ll have found ways to keep the good parts of a remote working arrangement, while moving on from things that didn’t work quite so well. You want to minimize increases in stress and mental health issues, so that everyone feels connected to the team and the organization.
Good Advice is Key
Are you looking for ways that your employee benefits plan can support your employees as they return to the office? Are you considering introducing an employee benefit plan as your employees transition from a remote working arrangement? Review your options with one of our licensed advisors on the phone, or contact us for a comparison quote. Review your options with one of our licensed advisors on the phone, or contact us for a comparison quote.
Whether you’re looking for extended health and dental coverage, disability coverage, or life and critical illness coverage, GroupHEALTH has affordable benefits packages that work as hard as you do.