They say all good things must come to an end, and while the last 5 months of an extended school holiday has been both a surreal and fulfilling time, to say the least, it’s time to return to work. With the government furlough scheme soon due to be relaxed, plus a lot more companies reinstating their employees, what can be expected when returning to work from furlough? I spoke to those in the know for the ultimate lowdown.
COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR MANAGER
There’s no time like coming off furlough to be honest and open with your manager. This is a precarious time for everyone and you need to be 100% comfortable with returning to work, especially if this involves being exposed to public transport and being around more people than you have in the past couple of months. Tell your manager exactly how you’re feeling so they can ease the process for both of you. ‘My biggest advice is to not be scared to ask for the support you need in order to make the transition back to work as smooth as possible’ says Nicole White, a HR Business Partner. ‘Be honest with your employer about your reservations and be forthcoming by proposing your desired working style. That way they will be able to work with you to come to a solution, or you may even spark a conversation that will change their way of thinking for the whole organisation.’
Business Operations Manager at Dune London, Francesca Lascelles says about un-furloughing her staff: ‘My first priority was to make them feel welcomed back and at ease as possible. I’m mindful my team has been off work for months and have adapted my expectations accordingly. Happy team = happy life’. Your managers and team have your best interests at heart and this is a ‘new normal’ everyone is still learning about.
There are some companies and job roles that will require staff to go back into the office. If you don’t feel comfortable with returning, you’re well within your rights to speak with your HR department and management to seek a solution. You and your employer should be practical, flexible and sensitive to each other’s situation. ‘I would encourage all employees to approach their immediate manager or HR team to discuss any reservations they have. Ask your employer what procedures they have in place to make returning to the office safe.’ recommends Nicole.
KEEP ASKING QUESTIONS
Were you the only member of your team that was furloughed? It’s likely that your manager and members of your team have worked throughout the pandemic. With that in mind, you might feel a bit lost coming back to work after 4 months out.
Francesca reiterates this: ‘I’m conscious I have worked throughout the pandemic and have gone through any business or government changes in real-time. I’ve asked my team to remind me that they don’t know what’s going on and encouraged them to question me.’
Keep asking questions to your peers and managers. It’s normal to be out of the loop and totally okay that you can’t get your head around everything during your first few days back. ‘Like returning from any long-term leave, it is vital that you are introduced back to work successfully. Think of this as a re-onboarding or induction like you did when you first started your job.’ Nicole advises: ‘it is crucial that you get the right information to get you back up to speed. When transitioning back to work you should think of the following things:
Do you have the correct access to systems and accounts?
Have you had a return to work meeting with your manager?
Have you met with other relevant people in your teams?’
Ensure you keep questioning things no matter how silly they may seem; you can’t be expected to be working at a pre-pandemic rate after almost half a year off.
A lot can change in 4 months, so don’t be naive to think that everything will be the same as when you left it. As well as potential new processes and procedures within your role, there’s a good chance the team around you will have changed too. Especially those in retail. It’s been well publicised that fashion retail has taken a big hit during the pandemic and companies have had to make cuts to headcounts. Nicole comments: ‘For some, furlough may have felt like one long holiday. For others, it has been one of the most uncertain times of their lives.’
It’s important to be mindful of your fellow colleagues who could be going through redundancy processes or even simply have had a hard time during lockdown.
Additionally, be mindful of your own self and how you’re feeling. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed when you return to work after numerous months off. New Business Executive, Jordan Hulse says of her return to work: ‘See this as a fresh start, and prepare for your first few weeks to be busy! You will be trying to find your feet again and this can take time, so remember to be kind to yourself and communicate with your team where you may need support’.
Don’t be disheartened if your role has changed slightly when you return. The Covid-19 pandemic has changed not only the way we live our lives but also how businesses are run. Everyone is adapting and in some cases, certain positions in companies will have been modified to make way for these changes. For instance, buyers are having to re-evaluate stock levels, whether there will be more longevity in seasons etc. Buyers returning to work will have to take on more responsibilities and alter their skill sets to suit the current market.
Undertaking a role change is great for you in the long run. Jordan confirms that when she came off furlough her role had altered: ‘My role has now broadened, meaning that I pick up more responsibilities and work across more projects – this can only be a positive thing as I will learn a lot more’. Opportunities to progress outside your job spec don’t always come up so see it as a positive to expand your development, try out new things and ultimately enjoy a wider scope of skills. ‘I would tell employees to expect that there will be changes and to embrace these. Your employers will be continuing to navigate through the change that a post COVID world brings, so take control of what you can and get involved in being part of this – it is unprecedented!’ suggests Nicole. A Junior PR Executive agrees, suggesting: ‘throw yourself into your role and give it everything you’ve got!’
WFH IS THE NEW NORM
For many of us, returning back into the office may be a thing of the past. Lots of companies are looking to keep employees working from the comfort (and safety) of their homes. It’s still unclear when we will return to a pre-COVID life, so coming off furlough doesn’t mean going back to your desk.
Instead, make sure your set up at home is as comfortable as you need it to be. Nicole says ‘If you are spending more than 40% of your week working from home then it is important that you have a suitable work set up in order to do your job. Conduct a long-term self-assessment of your home working space ask yourself this:
Do you have a designated work station in your home (including desk, chair, etc.)?
Do you have enough screens?
Do you have sufficient internet capabilities?’
With a lot more of us destined to be working from home for the foreseeable, it’s important that you have everything you need. ‘It is in your employer’s interest for you to be equipped to do your job well and it is their legal obligation to make sure you have a safe environment to work in, whether that is in an office or at home.’
The Government Health and Safety Executive provides a detailed assessment that you can use as a rough guide when reviewing your home working space.
Once you’re back in the building, there will be many measures making up the ‘new normal’. Firstly, there will be a lot of social distancing to respect; from your desk to your tea break, staying away from other colleagues will become part of the deal. Much like the supermarkets, expect to see a one way system and limits to people in certain spaces. Additionally, your company could implement staggered work times, lunch-breaks, and a lot more work-from-home days. You may see a lot less of your work wife now *sob*
MAINTAIN A STRUCTURE
Chances are after months off work, going back to the 9-5 will be a bit of a shock to the system. It’s important to get back into a working structure to maximise your time, efficiency and not leave you feeling burnt out. Take a lunch break, socialise with your colleagues, make time for daily walks and keep communicating if you’re struggling to adjust back to the old routine. A Junior PR Executive advises: ‘Working from home it can be difficult to show quite how much work you’re doing so make sure you communicate it with your manager. And remember to try and finish on time it’s easy to keep typing and reading that one last email after 5:30pm but mentally it can be challenging. We’re currently living at work so it’s important to take a break’. Make the ‘new normal’ work for you to ensure you get the best out of your role, company and working potential, despite the new conditions.
Covid-19 has changed the world we live in and work in. No matter how you’ve spent the last few months on furlough there’s no denying it’s still an uneasy thought of coming back to work in a world full of uncertainties. Now we know what to expect upon our return, the only thing to think about now is, what will your post-furlough-first-day-back outfit be?
Written by Rebecca Boffey