What to expect when returning to work after COVID-19 and how to stay safe

What offices will look like after returning from social distancing.

Global economies have stalled thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. The tech sector was hit hard in the beginning but has transitioned well into the work-from-home model. For employees, that’s a good thing. It means that many have been able to keep a paycheck while working from home.

Still, it isn’t going to last forever. With many parts of the United States reopening, employees will soon start returning to their offices for work. After months of social distancing, that understandably causes some anxiety. Workers preparing to return to a shared office are likely facing worries about things like safety, how to get back into a routine, and are wondering what things are going to looking like.

It’s safe to say that workspaces are going to be drastically different than they were when they were abandoned in March. However, with the right precautions it will be possible to make a safe and seamless transition back to work.

New Look

One of the biggest changes that employees are likely to see when returning to work is the social distancing measures in place. Many tech companies and startups embrace the idea of communal workspaces and shared offices. In the wake of COVID-19, that’s likely going to change—at least for now.

Since the virus is primarily spread by close person-to-person contact, social distancing is one of the best measures to decrease its transmission. Employees returning to an office setting likely don’t have to physically interact with many customers or outsiders. If co-workers are able to sit six feet apart, the workplace will be much safer. So, many employees will find that layout changes have occurred at the office, including moving furniture and desks to accommodate better social distancing.

Meanwhile, other precautions are likely to be in place. Another reliable form of protection is physical barriers, like plastic dividers, between people coming into contact. If moving desks apart isn’t an option, companies may install these plastic dividers between employees.

While social distancing is great, employees working in an office are inevitably going to overlap in some places. Frequent, thorough disinfection of these surfaces is a must in the post-COVID-19 workplace. Employees should expect regular cleanings of things like door handles, desks, phones, light switches, and similar areas.

Masking Up

The thought of wearing a mask to work for eight hours a day might be repulsive. Few people actually like wearing masks. Others despise them. However, since COVID-19 is a respiratory virus, masks are essential to stopping its spread.

For the foreseeable future, employees are likely going to be required to wear masks whenever they come into the office. In some places, this personal protective equipment (PPE) may be provided. In others, employees will have to bring their own masks. At the federal level, employers aren’t legally obligated to provide this equipment. That could change in the coming days, but such legislation won’t arrive before employees return to work en masse.

If you don’t have a better option available, opt for some form of cloth face covering. Although this won’t necessarily protect you from COVID-19, it does prevent you from spreading it if you are infected asymptomatically. That approach works even better when everyone in a space is wearing a mask. As such, many employers will likely require that all employees wear a mask when they return to the office.

How to Keep Yourself Safe When Returning to Work

Employees returning to work are surely wondering how they can stay safe. Although going out of the house will always carry some degree of risk, most offices will be set up in a way that promotes employee safety. No employer wants to be responsible for a workplace outbreak of COVID-19.

However, individuals can also take some steps to keep themselves safe when returning to work. As mentioned, masks are essential. Every employee should be wearing one—whether an employer requires it or not.

Meanwhile, it’s a good idea to carry a personal supply of hand sanitizer and antiseptic wipes if possible. If you can’t get those supplies, be sure to regularly wash your hands with soap and water.

Finally, everyone should continue to avoid touching their face. Even if the virus were to contaminate your hands, you can’t actually get sick from it without letting it in. Unfortunately, rubbing your eyes, mouth, or nose does just that. Refraining from touching your face is an important safety measure not only for returning to the workplace but also whenever you go out in public.

Can I Keep Working From Home?

Soon, companies will start calling their employees back to work after months of being at home. Certain people may be eager to get back to some sort of normalcy. Others are dreading it. Many of those in the latter group may also be enjoying the work-from-home life and are wondering if it’s possible to just keep doing that.

Fortunately for employees in the tech sector, companies are typically pretty flexible. If you are able to fulfill all of your responsibilities while working from home, you might be able to skip the office altogether. Many companies, like Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, and Google, have already announced permanent or extended work from home policies.

If an employee has a serious concern about returning to work—for instance, an impaired immune system or an immunocompromised loved one who lives with them—it might be worth having a conversation. Many employers are likely to be flexible right now if it’s possible to work out a solution.

Otherwise, employees getting ready to return to the office should take the safety precautions mentioned above. The adjustment to going back will likely take some time. However, with a positive attitude and plenty of teamwork, we’ll all get through it together.


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