What to expect when you return to work after the pandemic

10 min read | Yvonne Smyth | Article | Workforce management Industry insights | Workforce planning

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The post-pandemic work environment is going to change forever. So how can you adapt to these new working styles? Discover how to embrace the new changes to make your post-lockdown return to work successful long-term.


The post-pandemic workplace: Key insights

The pandemic has forced us all to question so many elements of our day-to-day lives. It’s forced us to question our long-standing habits, routines and values, in both our personal and working lives. For some, the rapid move to remote working may have been a big adjustment, but transitioning back could be an even greater challenge.

In this article, we will look at:

  • How to return to work safely
  • What will change in the post-pandemic workplace
  • How to adjust to new working styles
  • Reflections on the post-pandemic future of work.

You can also learn more about adapting to post-pandemic changes in our Inspire Me in the New Era of Work hub.


How can we return to work safely in the post-pandemic era?

To return to work safely, we need to be asking ourselves a few questions to protect ourselves and our employees:

  • Will we need to physically redesign our work environments? How will we tackle this in shared working environments or co-working spaces?
  • How should we phase the return to the workplace? Should our approach to transitioning our people back to their places of work be done on a case-by-case, personalised basis?
  • How will we take extra measures to ensure the health and safety of employees (and their dependants) who are at higher risk?
  • Our employees now have a renewed appreciation for personal health and hygiene. How can we ensure they are confident that we, as their employer, are equally as committed?
  • Will we need to discontinue the use of shared items, equipment or hot desks?
  • How will we ensure regular cleaning and disinfecting of our workplaces, as well as regular hand washing and access to masks and gloves?
  • How will we deal with non-compliance by employees?
  • What is our contingency plan should we experience a second peak in any of our geographies, or a suspected infection case in one of our own facilities?


What will change in the post-pandemic workplace?

With all of these questions to answer, we should expect a few changes in the workplace, both to the environment and to our wider stakeholders.

We won’t see colleagues as often
Organisations will transition their workforce back into the office in stages to reduce density in the workplace. This means you’ll may only see those colleagues who are scheduled to work in the office on the same day or days as you.

Employers may also adopt staggered start and finish times to further reduce the number of employees gathering at the lift at the beginning and end of each day.

We’ll have fewer informal, in-person chats
By keeping staff physically distant, we will find fewer opportunities for in-person conversations. Your employer may have reconfigured seating plans and moved desks apart to separate people. You may even find yourself further separated from colleagues by partitions.

Our customers’ habits will change
As a result of this crisis, our customers are changing – that means our organisations need to change too, and fast enough to remain relevant to our customer-base. We’ve already been shown by many forward-thinking organisations that a lightning-fast pivot is entirely possible.

So, will we need to rethink our business model, or areas of strategic focus? How are the needs, wants and expectations of our customers going to change as result of this crisis? How will this impact the services we provide and the people we hire? Will the overriding purpose of our organisation still hold true in the new world? How will this impact our workforce planning? Will it create skills gaps that we’ll need to address? Will existing jobs be disrupted or changed? Will new roles need to be created?

Digitalisation will continue to transform the workplace
The pace of automation and digitalisation has increased in many industries during the crisis, with many planning to ramp up activity in the future. In fact, a survey by EY found that 41% of respondents “said they were investing in accelerating automation as businesses prepared for a post-crisis world.” How will this trend manifest itself, and how will it impact the existing roles and skills within our business and those of our customers? Will the way we deliver our services look the same?

Our responsibilities will change
During this time, many of our employees will have experienced more autonomy in their roles, being given permission to craft their routines in a meaningful way that works for them. How do we facilitate this positive trend going forward to ensure their potential is being reached? 

We will be better equipped to deal with future crises
The crisis has shown us that huge, seemingly unimaginable events are possible (and they are likely to happen again, just in different forms, for example cyber-attacks, environmental disaster), so how do we future proof both our products and services, and our people with that in mind?

What can we do as leaders, to ensure our people work in an agile, adaptive, collaborative and resilient way? How do we think about the capital structure of our business and what should be the balance of emphasis across all stakeholders, whether they be owners, employees, customers, suppliers or the communities we work in?


How to adjust to the post-pandemic work environment

If you’re finding that the post-lockdown workplace doesn’t suit your working style, try these tips:

  • Make time for virtual catchups: dedicate time in your meetings for casual chats
  • Create opportunities for talking things though: add time to the meeting agenda to share ideas or challenges
  • Ask to come into work more often: there may be people who prefer to work exclusively from home, so if space is limited, you may be able to compromise
  • Look for upskilling opportunities: embrace online learning platforms like podcasts and virtual webinars if you do find yourself working from home
  • Prioritise your wellbeing: look for opportunities to socialise and schedule regular breaks.


What lies ahead for the post-pandemic future of work?

This pandemic will change forever what we have, in the past, all taken for granted as being ‘normal’. There is a growing urgency and pressure on us as leaders to be able to quickly pivot our organisations to adapt to the new world.

We now have the opportunity to carve out space for true reflection and contemplation as we will undoubtedly need to redesign our businesses and that cannot be done without proper thought. The majority of businesses will need to find a new product or service set, a new marketplace, a new way of doing what they do, a new relationship with employees and shareholders, a new set of success metrics and so on.

While nothing is certain right now, what we do know for sure is that there will be a tomorrow, and that tomorrow will provide each of our organisations with opportunity, if we look hard enough for it, and ask ourselves the right questions, difficult though they may be. The winners will be those who do a proper and thoughtful job at that deep analysis of what, why, how and who. The losers will be those that simply wait for everything to come back as before.

Post-COVID return to work: adjust your routine with our resources

If you’re struggling to adjust to the post-pandemic working environment, access our regularly updated insights. As your lifelong career partner, we are with you every step of the way and will be updating the new site regularly with new guides, blogs and information to support you.


About this author

Yvonne Smyth

Yvonne Smyth is Head of Diversity & Inclusion at Hays, working with our clients to ensure their recruitment strategies are aligned with the latest equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) policies and initiatives. She is responsible for creating and implementing diverse recruitment strategies that effectively support the representation of more diverse staff profiles within their business.

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