Office staff explain what it’s REALLY like to finally go back to work

Working from home has had its positive side for many people, such as cutting down on commuting time.

But with stringent measures being carried out to ensure that workplaces are as risk-free as possible, people are now embracing a more flexible approach to work along with the opportunity to safely return to the office. 

A safer workplace environment means more people are choosing to ditch Zoom calls for real-life meetings. Among the positive effects are the fact that they find it easier not only to solve work problems, but also to switch off when the day is over.

And, of course, those who have chosen to step back into the office have welcomed the renewed feeling of camaraderie with their colleagues.

Staff at MRS Training and Rescue are now working together again at its head office in Mansfield, Notts. The company employs 145 staff and 124 were on furlough, but over recent weeks they have gradually been returning – to find a workplace that’s undergone some significant changes. And they have been eased into the new ways of working with a full induction programme.

“We have regular chats to make sure people are feeling happy and reassured with the safety measures in place,” says health and safety director Paul Wilson, who worked hard to make sure the offices were ready for the return of staff.

“We looked at things like general layout, restricted numbers, ventilation and screening between desks where we couldn’t social distance. That was the general approach, along with signage and increased hygiene. We had the cleaners in, but also did additional cleaning between ourselves and made records. Everybody in the office played their part and felt safe at work because they appreciated the extra input around hygiene.”

Some staff at MRS, which runs practical training courses for people working in high-risk and confined spaces, are still working from home, and the location of the head office lends itself towards driving into work, rather than commuting via public transport. “We’ve used Zoom and Microsoft Teams a lot, and we’re still using them to some extent,” says finance director Darryl Walford.

How to plan a safe return to the workplace

1 Employers should carry out a Covid-19 risk assessment

2 Implement increased hygiene measures
■ Encourage handwashing
■ Provide hand sanitiser
■ More cleaning and disinfecting – especially in high-traffic areas 

3 Implement 2m distancing where possible, aided by:
■ Clear signage and floor markings
■ No sharing of  workstations
■ Installing barriers if 2m distancing isn’t possible 

4 Got symptoms? Request a free test
■ If NHS Test and Trace asks you to isolate, stay at home

“People have enjoyed being back at work,” Darryl adds. “The social interaction is part of it, but you can also reach decisions more quickly. You’re more aware of what’s happening across the team and you feel like you’re working together.”

Someone else who’s happy to be back in the office is Kat Vitou, founder of Well Life Tribe. And it’s no surprise that staff at the wellbeing platform, based in Cobham, Surrey, are finding healthier ways to commute…

“Most of the staff live locally, so they can walk, run or cycle in,” explains Kat. “We keep our distance in the office, but those of us who’ve come in so much prefer being back together again,” she says. “We like the flexibility – a couple of people are still working from home. There’s only so much banter you can have on Zoom and everyone appreciates having that time together as a team so much more.”

Kat admits the last few months have been tough with the constant juggle of work and childcare, so she’s chosen to return to the office environment to soak up the team spirit and collaborate on ideas.

“As a mum, it’s easier to be in the office sometimes,” she says. “Working from home has its perks, and I love my family, but I need to see other people too.”

Find out more about returning to work safely:  gov.uk/check-how-to-return-to-work-safely, and the steps employers must take:  gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19.

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