How COVID-19 Has Changed People in The Workplace

Aamani Rehman, our Inclusion and Diversity Consultant, explains why people who return to the office after a lockdown may not be the same people who left, and how we can support one another during this period of transition.

Claire Williams, our Inclusion and Diversity Director, also shares some insight on the feeling of connection.

We hope our tips help you and your teams to be consciously inclusive as we all adapt to new ways of working.

Scroll down to learn more.

Why the workplace has changed

The last 22 months have been a period of turbulence, uncertainty, and anxiety. As people managed their daily responsibilities, from juggling working from home and family commitments, employers watched on as many of their staff worked their way into burnout.

This wasn’t intentional, and even if noticed, it was hard to address due to the ever-changing circumstances and added pressure that the pandemic delivered.

This has snowballed over time and created a new wave of worries and concerns as many of us adapt to new ways of working.

It’s not only changed our perspectives but changed our conditions in a way in which we could never have expected. The world of work has changed, and we’ve all had to adapt rapidly. However, there is still more adjusting to be done.

How do we create inclusive environments for the new perspectives and experiences of our old teams and colleagues?

The challenges and struggles we have all faced have made us altered versions of ourselves, we may feel like our personalities have changed, that we are different to the people our colleagues came to know and love before the pandemic.

For both leaders and team members, this can be a challenging situation, and the advice we share here is something we recommend you apply to both yourself and your people.

We ask that you reflect on this piece as it may be triggering, and therefore you may want to take some time to engage with the content.

We also want to remind you of how power and privilege are linked to this shift. Therefore, if you disagree with any points or feel that you cannot relate to the content, it is an opportunity for you to reflect on your privilege and how you can use your advantage to better the experience of others.

Be aware of individual circumstances

Not all of us have changed because of our circumstances, but some of our circumstances have changed us.

Give your employees time and space on this topic, to allow them to process their instant reactions and the thoughts and emotions that follow and support them through this.

The idea of the return to face-to-face working after COVID is one of mixed emotions. Returning to an office full of people is exciting for some and raises fear in others. Relook at your flexible working policies and make sure you give people options while adapting to future ways of working.

The commute or the feeling of being unsafe is consuming the minds of many individuals across industries. Therefore, we must balance our excitement and tenacity to get back to the new ‘normal’ with compassion. It is important that nobody is feeling pressured to go back to work, especially with what they may have been through.

We must treat everyone as a new individual with different experiences and outlooks than before and encourage others to do the same.

Be open to restarting our relationships

Much like our bias is driven by past experiences, our relationships are driven in the same way. So, as we move back into the workplace, let’s be open to restarting our relationships.

This blank canvas approach will create empowerment and psychological safety, which is key in this situation.

Some individuals may have had a challenging time working from home and focused on surviving, whilst others may have had fantastic experiences and were thriving. Let us all be conscious of the conversations and stories we share, especially as we return to work.

We must take into consideration events that have rocked certain communities in the last two years.

These range from Black Lives Matter, health inequalities through COVID, poor mental health (especially in the LGBTQ+ community where many people were in living arrangements where they could not be themselves), grief through losing people during this time, and the Palestine and Israel conflict.

Processing these emotions on top of the uncertainties that we face each day has been exhausting, so it’s crucial we adopt an approach of being kind to those we work with.

Consider the impact of connection

While many people enjoy working from home, others require a sense of connection, and in some cases, a “real life” connection.

Here is our MD Operations Claire’s personal experience of joy found in face-to-face connection:

“On Thursday I had what felt like a remarkable and wonderful experience.

That’s quite a statement… you are wondering, wow, what you have been getting up to Claire?

For the first time since mid-March, I had a face to face, in person, three-dimensional meeting with a colleague – one of our associate team. Liz and I sat in Starbucks, socially distanced, drank tea and talked about work, and then family, and then lockdown. Nothing remarkable in that, but the effect it had on me was energising, enlivening even joyous.

I had forgotten that feeling. The feeling that has, on reflection, carried me through 30 years in the people business. That feeling is why I do it.

I count my blessings. Through the past five months, I have been able to continue to work, my friends and family have been well, the team seem happy, I haven’t had to struggle with the challenges of homeschooling.  

Luckily, so many colleagues and clients have found this period enriching. People are talking about the benefits of no commute, dads, in particular, talking about them being about to see little ones during the week, introverts thriving. Lots of people are talking about being more connected than ever before. But, compared to in-person human contact, the flat screen just doesn’t cut it for me.

We must remember though, that this experience has been super tough for many and the continued uncertainty carries on.

It’s a challenge for us all. This experience has been super tough for many and the continued uncertainty carries on. We are finding a safe balance: not letting each other down by failing to respect different needs, trying to make sense of conflicting messaging.

We do though have a precious opportunity to pick out the best bits: flexible working as the norm, carbon emissions down, a true appreciation of people’s difference – we have had to share so much more of ourselves as we see into each other’s lives via Teams or Zoom. And people talk so positively about the “best bit of lockdown” – Grayson Perry’s Art club for me – but honestly, for me, the best but will be the end bit.

How to be consciously inclusive as we adapt to new ways of working

So how do we ensure we are ready to be consciously inclusive as we adapt to new ways of working or return to the office, and how can we support our teams to do this?

Listen with curiosity

Have open discussions with your team around reasonable adjustments and review the impact of hybrid working on your staff both individually and as a collective (EQIA’s would also need to be reviewed if relevant).

By focusing on listening and understanding, we can create atmospheres where people feel they can be honest about their situations and can share without fear of judgement.

No assumptions

Be aware that this is likely to be the first time back in the workplace after a long stint of working from home. Do not make any assumptions.

Treat every staff member like a new employee who you are excited to get to know again, try to refrain from asking specific questions about personal life or remarks such as: “You’re quiet today,” or “You used to be really bubbly, what’s wrong?”.

Many people have lost loved ones through this pandemic and may not have shared this with their employers or colleagues, so sensitivities have shifted, and we must approach conversations with empathy.

Consultation

Conduct listening circles with your teams to find out how they feel about returning to an office environment and how procedures can be put in place to mitigate the concerns.

Feel free to get in touch with your Inclusive Employers Account Manager on how to facilitate this if you would like some support, or if you’re not a member – contact us here.

You could also think about having mini-inductions or ‘refresh’ sessions to remind staff of your organisational culture and values and rebuild the foundations.

Be a friend

This is something we’d hope would be the norm in workplaces, but if you see someone feeling uncomfortable, in the workplace or a virtual meeting, check in on them.

Invite employees to do the same for each other. Supporting our colleagues as we return is how we will get through this adjustment together.

Take a look at our resource for help with navigating the transition back to work, with a focus on inclusivity and diversity.

For more tailored advice from our expert team, get in touch or contact your Inclusive Employers Account Manager.