Returning to a Prior Workplace After COVID: Establishing the New Normal

Jessica Cofer Blog

Article By: Dr. Amanda Carpenter, DPT, CProT, CEAS
North American Training Solutions Vice President and Health & Wellness Director

I am sure you have heard it said, we are not returning to life as it was before COVID-19. Our routines and habits have, and will, continue to change. We have undergone a rapid cultural and lifestyle transformation. Our daily routines, social interactions, and even our eating patterns have changed.

In the coming weeks and months, we will emerge from our homes and re-integrate into society. Everything will be different. Collectively and individually, we will establish the new normal.

Return to Work Will Require Reprogramming Ourselves
We spend roughly 1/3 of our life at work. Some will return to their old jobs, while others will have to find new employment. The routine changes for those finding new jobs will be a more natural transition; new people, new routines. However, those returning to a prior workplace will have the challenges of behavioral memory, combined with the natural desire for human connection with those we share a common history and existence with.

For those returning to a prior place of work, it will be similar to starting a new job with a high school reunion group. You had a common bond, a lot has happened, and you have a lot to catch up on, while working together to stay safe and productive. It is natural human behavior to connect when we reunite; we will want to get physically close to each other, hug those we care about, spend time talking to catch up on important events that have occurred while apart.

Our Behavioral Memory Will Need Reprogramming
You will do things automatically when you return to work. Similar to driving your car to and from your job each day without even thinking about it, so too your natural habits will reappear. Some habits will need to change, mistakes will be made, that is part of the process.

Think of your first day back as a new job but with a group of people you know. However, a lot has happened, and we have all changed and grown since March 11, 2020. We may even look as though we have aged (after all, hairdressers and barbershops have been closed), and our work routines will change as a result of new procedures and protocols, much like a new job.

To optimize safety and productivity, and ease the transition back to work, consider the following before re-opening or upon the start of work:

  • Schedule a social gathering to allow co-workers to catch up and reunite
  • Have a meeting at the workplace to discuss the following:
    • Verbally review prior routines: What needs to continue, what needs to change
    • Review baseline hazards, those that were there before COVID and will continue after (i.e., fall hazards, electrical hazards, slips/trips/falls)
    • Discuss COVID risk: Ask how team members are feeling? What about their family? What are the new routines (I.e. mask use, staying home, socializing)? Discussion without judgement is important to know where everyone is. People want to be heard. This discussion allows the leader/supervisor of the team to be aware of where the compliance issues may be and dissipate with discussion and regular check-ins.
    • Ensure everyone is committed to doing the best they can to protect each other and their families. In order to achieve this, everyone needs to work together and respect one another. Mistakes will occasionally be made, and that is ok. However, if anyone observes non-compliance with protocols, they need to advise their leader/supervisor.
    • Discuss COVID protocols: Hand washing, physical distancing, mask use, public interactions, workplace changes, etc.
    • Ask how everyone feels about the protocol, are there any major oppositions? How can everyone watch out for each other to ensure success?

Returning to work following the COVID pause will be a new experience, be patient with yourself and each other as you engage in new routines and habits. Allowing for human connection prior to a return to work will limit the natural desire for close physical connection and optimize productivity upon return. Discussion of prior hazards and new protocols will enhance safety and allow everyone the opportunity to be heard to improve compliance and teamwork. It’s not going to be easy, change never is; however, it is quite possible things will turn out far better than we could imagine. Have patience with yourself and your team.

Amanda Carpenter is the Vice President and Health & Wellness Director of North American Training Solutions. She is passionate about helping people be the best version of themselves, while performing at their best, and has extensive professional experience working with people to optimize their performance. Amanda’s approach combines human biology and physiology for self-regulation of the nervous system. This philosophy is the foundation of all NATS’ leadership and resiliency programs. Contact us today to learn how to be the most effective leader your team deserves as they return to work and strive to establish their new normal.

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