Returning To The Workplace

Suggestions for Transitioning Back to Work Amid COVID-19

Wisconsinites are beginning to return to work in offices, factories, restaurants and other workplaces across the state. While some return relieved, others find themselves concerned and a bit uneasy. Though making this transition after months away from our traditional work lives will inevitably present challenges, there a few things we can all do to make the adjustment period a little easier to handle.

Tips for Returning to the Workplace

Continue Infection Prevention Behaviors

“Our lives are likely going to be different for the foreseeable future,” said Catherine Langdon, Licensed Professional Counselor at ThedaCare Behavioral Health in Menasha. “That means we will need to continue to make changes in how we live, work and play.”

Most notably, individuals should continue following the guidelines offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and/or state and local health agencies and medical professionals to prevent the spread of COVID-19:

  • Practice good hygiene, including hand washing and sanitizing.
  • Avoid touching your face.
  • Disinfect frequently used items and surfaces, including mobile devices.
  • Remain 6 feet apart from others and wear a mask or face covering if you must go out.

“Masks are likely going to be part of the ‘new normal’ for a while, so that may change how we do some activities,” she said. “It certainly is going to affect face-to-face communication as it is harder to gauge how someone is reacting to comments when you can’t see all of their face.”

In addition to the measures each of us take as individuals, most workplaces will be engaging in heightened cleaning and sanitizing to reduce the risk of the spread of the COVID-19 virus and increase the comfort level for employees.

Learn New Workplace Protocol

Each job will present varying levels of risk and may require us to consider how we’ll respond to possible uncomfortable situations.

For example, a person working in customer service at a sales counter may encounter a customer who is standing too close and refuses to wear a mask, despite store or company policy.

“If you ask them to step back or put on a mask, they might respond negatively; how are you going to deal with that situation appropriately?” Langdon explained.

Employees who anticipate they might face such situations should talk with their supervisors about how to handle it appropriately. Learn what they recommend and whether you have their support to diplomatically and respectfully ask the person to follow the posted guidelines.

“Knowing you have support from leaders can give you confidence,” she said. “Being direct, unemotional, and respectful will be very important. Arguing is not effective. You may want to actually practice what you might say in such a situation.”

Though it is normal and healthy to feel frustration in these situations, becoming too emotional can create a barrier to effective communication, so it’s important to keep your emotions in check.

Re-Establish a Daily Routine

For many of us, just returning to the normal routine of getting ready, dropping kids off, commuting to work and getting enough sleep will be a significant adjustment.

“If you haven’t been working or you’ve been working from home, your routine has become very different,” Langdon said. “Budget a little extra time at first for getting ready for work, doing your hair/make-up or shaving, and getting dressed. Consider laying out your clothes the night before. If your routine includes getting kids off to daycare, engage them in practice runs as well, as they’ve likely fallen out of the normal routine, too.”

It is also important to consider potential, unexpected delays. Many workplaces may be performing health screenings upon employee arrival, and road construction could be taking place along your route. Avoid the undue stress of being late for work by leaving the house a little earlier than you may have in the past. It might be beneficial to also weave some self-care into your day to counteract the stress of returning to a busy routine.

“Listen to your favorite music, a podcast or audio book,” she said. “Stop and get a coffee at a drive-thru if you enjoy that. Do things that help prepare you and bolster your coping skills for a work situation that may be more stressful than you were previously used to experiencing.”

Be Patient with Coworkers

Keep in mind that not everyone is being called back to work, and that can create difficult situations. Half of the workforce may be working from the office, and the other half from home. There will likely still be a heavy reliance on virtual meetings, phone calls and emails to communicate, and those at home may still be juggling their personal and professional lives 24/7.

It’s important for all of us to be patient with one another.

“This is a challenging time; adjusting to new workplace rules and procedures takes time and understanding,” Langdon said. “Now is a good time for everyone to practice a little extra self-care, have a little extra patience and recognize that everyone is experiencing more stress. It’s a time to be a responsible citizen in our communities to help protect the vulnerable members of our population. We are all in this together and we will come through it together, especially if we respect one another’s thoughts, opinions and feelings.”