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New year, new office, new rules

15 January 2021 at 5:10 pm
Maggie Coggan
We take a look at how you can safely settle back into the office in 2021 

Maggie Coggan | 15 January 2021 at 5:10 pm


New year, new office, new rules
15 January 2021 at 5:10 pm

We take a look at how you can safely settle back into the office in 2021 

Most office workers across Australia spent the best part of 2020 working from home. 

But as a new working year begins and stay at home restrictions continue to ease, many workplaces are slowly but surely welcoming workers back into the office (even if it is only a couple of days a week). 

For instance, on Monday, Victoria will up the number of people allowed back in workplaces from 25 per cent to 50 per cent. 

The “new normal” we are all adjusting to in order to keep ourselves and others safe means that going back to the office in 2021 might look a little different. 

We asked Louise Gray, CARE’s chief operating officer, for some tips on how to transition back into the office stress-free. 

What are some of the first steps employees should take to make sure they are working safely in the office? 

Organisations should have a plan in place before staff return to the office and staff need to familiarise themselves with this. It will cover things such as physical distance, number of people in the office at a time, availability of hand sanitiser, and cleaning arrangements. 

For some people, it has been a while since they’ve worked in the office environment and people shouldn’t underestimate the potential for anxiety linked to that. Some might find it helpful to build time into the day to socialise with colleagues while others might like to take some quiet time alone to adapt to the return to working around other people.   

What can the organisation do to help employees feel safe at work? 

Planning is key and this needs to happen before people return to work in an office context.  It’s critical that organisations understand the requirements in the state/territory where they operate and that this is fed into a return to office plan. Communication is key. People are coming to terms with new ways of working and it’s important that they have a forum to access information and ask questions. Work Health Safety Committees can play a key role in this.  

Physical distancing, hygiene and cleaning are all critical parts of a safe workplace. People need to be fully informed about what is required of them and how the organisation is helping to assure their safety. Other practical actions include scheduling staff office attendance, signage to remind people about physical distancing, making sure any visitors to the office sign in and out and providing the ever-important hand sanitiser.  

People may have heightened concerns about their own health and that of their loved ones.  Employee assistance programs are a source of support for staff who find the return to the office stressful and this is something organisations can have available for the mental wellbeing of the team.  

Many workers won’t be going back to the office full time, do you have any tips on how they can balance a hybrid working week? 

Being clear about expectations is important. This goes beyond the location where the work is taking place. Staff and their supervisors need to be on the same page in terms of working hours, availability and outputs. Working from home can lead to an “always on” approach setting boundaries and being disciplined about when the working day ends is key! 

At CARE Australia, we use “individual flexibility agreements” to adjust standard hours of work and location. This gives everyone certainty of a tailored work pattern to suit the needs and preferences of the individual and the organisation. Doing this makes expectations clear, and removing uncertainty is helpful in managing stress as people know when they are “at work” regardless of whether that is at home or in the office.  

Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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