An international conversation is happening right now around return to the office after working from home. Vaccine rates are climbing, doses are being shipped around the world, and humanity is pulling together to flatten the curve and stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. With signs pointing toward the final stretch of this almost two-year dystopia, it seems as though our “new normal”, whatever that may be, is just on our horizon.
So much so, that we’re seeing phased reopening plans being announced through many parts of the world. As governments are unveiling these plans, this is prompting business owners to begin their own return to office planning, sparking the global debate of whether there is a need to return to an office at all. Many employees have adjusted to a new remote work lifestyle over the pandemic, and, according to Harvard Business School’s recent study, 81% of workers either don’t want to go back to the office, or would prefer a hybrid solution going forward.
Throughout this entire conversation, one prevalent theme seems to keep returning: COVID-19 and mental health. How has the pandemic taken a toll on employee mental health and wellness? How can organizations prioritize mental health while also implementing their return to office plans? In this blog, we aim to answer these questions.
Navigating the New Normal: COVID-19 and Mental Health
There is absolutely no doubt in anyone’s mind that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted mental health in a significant way.
The Canadian Mental Health Association’s Mental Health Impacts of COVID-19: Wave 2 study showed that, of the 3,072 respondents, 40% self-reported that their mental health has deteriorated since the onset of the pandemic. That percentage rose to 61% for those individuals with a pre-existing mental health issue. Worries around another wave, a loved one or family member dying, contracting the virus, being separated from family and friends, vaccine safety and effectiveness, finances, vaccine availability, job loss, having enough food to meet the family’s needs, and being safe from domestic violence were all included in the report under experiences of stress or worry.
In their Mental Health in Canada: Covid-19 and Beyond policy advice paper, the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health (CAMH) is very clear that the COVID-19 pandemic had a negative impact on Canadians’ mental health. The paper goes on to say that, in a survey of Canadian workers, 81% reported that the pandemic negatively impacted their mental health, which included a significant drop in overall worker mental health since the beginning of COVID-19.
With all these statistics (and others), it’s vitally important to consider what a return to office would do for employee mental health and wellness. Returning to the office after working from home for over a year will require a big adjustment for your employees. Have you considered the mental health and wellness of your employees in your return to office plan?
Navigating the New Normal: Returning to the Office After Working from Home
The Canadian Mental Health Association says that anxiety around returning to the office and once again engaging with others is both natural and expected. Consider the unprecedented shift that many employees had to undergo when the pandemic was declared back in March of 2020. COVID-19 forced many changes to the way we work, the way we interact with our loved ones, and the way we enjoy our daily activities.
Of course, a fully remote model is just not feasible for every organization out there, and, in some cases, you may not even be able to offer a hybrid model. So, how do you help your employees navigate the “new normal”, whatever that may look like? How can you help to ease the stress of returning to the office after working from home?
As an employer, having a clear return to office plan that includes employee mental health and wellness can go a long way in reducing the fear, anxiety, anger, or frustration that your employees may be feeling over returning to the office. When you are putting together your return to office plan, keep the following questions in mind:
- Are you able to offer your employees the opportunity to discuss what’s on their mind in a safe atmosphere?
- When creating your return to office plan, do you intend to involve collaboration between both management and employees, to ensure that you are receiving input from those who the plan will affect the most?
- Have you outlined the steps that you are taking as an employer to keep employees both physically and mentally safe and healthy when they return to the office? For example, are you putting in sanitization policies for shared workspaces? Will you be requiring that your employees wear a mask? How are you handling social distancing?
- Have you informed employees of what their duties are, as it pertains to health and safety, when they return to the office? Have you informed them of what your duties are, as an employer, to maintain their health and safety?
- Is there a protocol in place for employees who can’t return to the office? What does that protocol look like? Have you shared that protocol with your employees?
- How will you share these policies and procedures with your staff?
- What does your communications plan look like for introducing a return to the office to your employees? You can’t just flip a switch and expect your employees to be back in the office tomorrow – have you given enough thought to how this communications plan will be rolled out?
Being able to answer these questions clearly and concisely, you, as the employer, will be able to show that you have a well-thought-out plan for taking care of employee mental health and wellness. This, in turn, will help you to build your brand as a compassionate, trustworthy, transparent organization that puts the physical and psychological health and safety of their employees first.
Navigating the New Normal: Start Communicating with Your Employees!
Similar to the abrupt shift in remote working back in March of 2020, returning to the office after working from home will be a massive shock to the system for any employee. As the sections above have mentioned, communicating your plan for return to office will help to ease employee stress and mitigate anxiety, fear, frustration, and even anger. A communications platform, like Workplace from Facebook, can be a key component of the conversation - you need somewhere that employees can go to get answers to their questions, learn more about what the organization is doing, and provide their thoughts and feedback on what's happening.
Here are some of the ways that Workplace from Facebook can help you to start communicating the changes that are coming, and help support and engage employees who may be experiencing mental health challenges within your organization:
- Use Live Video:
Workplace from Facebook allows anyone with an account in your organization to Go Live. C-level and Communications management can use this feature to provide information on your organization’s return to office plan, and, more importantly, gauge employee buy-in and support by analyzing the feedback provided in real-time through comments, likes, and reactions on the video.
- Create Groups for employees to have safe conversations:
Workplace from Facebook gives organizations the opportunity to create groups based on employee interests. LineZero, for example, has created The Knowledge Centre, Women at PSIT & LZ, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging, and a host of other groups that help employees know when and where to discuss topics that are on their minds and in their heart. These spaces are known to the organization to be psychologically safe spaces, where employees can share experiences, ask questions, suggest changes, and more – without fear of repercussions.
Groups can also be used in your organization as you start to unveil your return to office plan. Creating a “Return to the Office” group would give your organization a space to post the policies and procedures you’re developing, post polls and surveys to gauge employee feedback, allow for collaboration across the organization, and, if your organization is open to the idea, provide a safe space where employees can ask their questions and voice their concerns over the return to office plan you’ve laid out.
- 1:1 Groups between Managers and Employees:
Similar to the Groups idea mentioned above, another way that organizations can use Groups effectively is to create one-on-one groups between managers and employees. Creating a 1:1 Group between a manager and each of their employees gives those managers the opportunity to mentor, support, and assist employees on a 1-to-1 basis throughout the transition back to office life.
Managers can use these 1:1 Groups to share pertinent documents, share with their employees what is expected of them during the return to office plan, solicit feedback from employees, and ensure that there is clear, two-way communication happening throughout navigating the new normal. Similarly, employees can use these 1:1 Groups to make suggestions, express concerns, or ask questions.
- Coffee Bots:
One of the ways that LineZero helped our customers throughout the pandemic is by developing Coffee Bot – a bot that arranged half-hour meetings between randomly selected members of the organization. Anyone in the organization (from C-level to frontline worker) who was enrolled in Coffee Bot would be sent weekly promptings, asking if they were available during a specific time. If they answered “yes”, Coffee Bot would match them with others who also answered in the affirmative, and send a calendar invite for the date and time in question.
This application of a Workplace bot could also be used in your organization to have controlled, focus group conversations on the organization’s return to office policies, and ensure that employees felt heard. Setting up the bot to match management with employees can ensure that this cross-collaboration is achieved.
Check out our related blog on communications plans for bringing people back to the office for more in-depth ways that you can communicate with your employees during these times of uncertainty, and ensure that everyone in your organization is on the same page when it comes to returning to the office.
Use Workplace from Facebook to help you navigate the new normal!
In any situation that calls for change, communication is the most important thing. If your organization is already using Workplace and you want more information on how you can use it to not only roll out your Return to Office Plan but ensure that you’re also supporting employee mental health and wellness, LineZero is here to help! We’ll be happy to chat with you and help you create a strategy around using Workplace to enhance your communications as you navigate the new normal and return to the office.
Not Using Workplace Yet?
If you’re not yet familiar with the benefits of Workplace from Facebook, let’s jump on a call for a brainstorming session! We’ll not only help understand how Workplace can help you to communicate the changes that will be coming to your organization with your new Return to Office Plan, but we’ll also show you a visual blueprint of how your existing technologies and Workplace from Facebook can integrate to form a seamless experience. Our unique experience allows us to help you close the gap between your business goals and objectives and your technology capabilities – give us a shout today.