Oracle SVP says the gradual return to the workplace will require physical safety and workplace wellbeing. She shares how to make the transition.

As New Year’s resolutions came pouring in earlier this year, the usual intentions to be healthier sound a little different. Traditionally, companies opted to stay out of employee health decisions, whether physical or mental. But the pandemic changed all of that. Not only is physical safety now a major priority, but with 78% of people worldwide reporting that their mental health has suffered due to the pandemic, companies need to address mental health and workforce wellness, too.

With the COVID-19 vaccine now underway, the promise of getting back to “normal” is on the horizon, but the journey back will be long and slow. This transition will likely include employer-led adoption of new technologies monitoring exposure, contact tracing, and vaccine distribution. While these new platforms are long-term solutions to maintain the physical safety of the workforce, employers also need to prioritize mental wellbeing by offering programming and support to employees. 

As we continue in this world of remote work and slowly begin the transition back to the office, business and HR leaders can help keep employees both mentally and physically healthy by emphasizing safety, perking up the at-home experience, and fostering a (virtually) connected culture.

Prioritizing physical safety in the new workplace 

It was easy to take employee safety for granted before the pandemic. But now, as companies eye returning to the office in what we hope will soon be a post-pandemic world, organizations need to focus on physical safety and implement new processes that protect their employees and guide them through the journey of returning to the office. 

2021 offices will look very different, new, and maybe even a little scary at first. Because of the pandemic, we will see major office space implications including new ways of tracking cleanliness, procedures to monitor temperatures, personal wellbeing, and potential COVID-19 exposure, with some organizations even offering on-site testing. 

While every company will tackle this in different ways, they will all need to make the new processes as streamlined as possible for employees to learn, understand, and implement. Business and HR leaders have a huge task at hand and should look to create a seamless journey for employees returning back to the workplace that:

  • automates a “re-boarding” process and guides employees through new guidelines, protocols, and trainings on in-office safety
  • will proactively notify workers to complete regular wellness checks with responsible resulting actions (i.e. immediate return home if certain symptoms are present)
  • makes it easy to get necessary testing and report results as needed for returning to the office and/or resuming business travel
  • communicates how to report health and safety incidents to the proper channels 
  • allows employees to easily update their immunization status

Though the return to the office for many people may be further down the road, when the time comes it will be critical for organizations to ensure the safest transition possible for their workforce. There are a number of workplace technologies that can help assist in this effort, as long as organizations put safety at the top of their agenda. 

Perking up at home 

Prior to the pandemic, many companies took huge pride in their office perks. They revolved around making the office a pleasant place to be and hyped up the “fun” or “cool” factor. For example, office snacks, beer gardens, ping-pong tables, and on-site gyms all helped employees feel at home in their workplace. But now that our homes are the workplace, those perks don’t carry much weight.

Remote work has put a strain on people’s personal lives with 85% of people saying mental health issues at work impact their home life too. And 76% believe their company should be doing more to protect their mental health. It all goes to show that as we continue to adapt to a pandemic and soon a post-pandemic world, people will be opting for personal wellness over a “cool” office culture. Organizations should be prepared to meet this growing demand by offering benefits that address workforce wellness and ease the burdens of working from home, such as:

  • confidential access to mental health counselling services and wellness applications
  • support for working parents including childcare services 
  • complimentary food delivery to replicate provided in-office meals 
  • reimbursement for increased internet or utility costs
  • monthly self-care and home office stipends for employees to use at will

Another way to help employees relieve the social isolation brought on by working remotely is to give them opportunities to be involved or volunteer in their communities. My employer, Oracle, offers employees paid time to spend volunteering for organizations of their choice. When we switched to working remotely during the pandemic, we highlighted virtual volunteering opportunities where people can participate from home. Businesses that begin offering perks like this will help their employees feel more connected to their communities and increase mental wellbeing.

Creating connectivity — virtually, professionally, and socially

Offices naturally bring employees together, where company culture is formed organically through things like coffee breaks, lunches, team interactions, water cooler conversations, and spontaneous after-work happy hours. Without the physical space of the office where co-workers congregate, team leaders need to work deliberately to create experiences that encourage true connectivity in a remote environment. 

Shared positive experiences with teammates are an important part of a strong performing group and further reinforces the focus on wellbeing that we know will be key in 2021. Teams, whether remote or in-person, should celebrate wins, personal milestones, and special events together through chat platforms and calls. For instance, if a team has a tradition of singing Happy Birthday!, they should continue to do so—just virtually. 

At the same time, workers need to be sure to avoid giving themselves burnout. Even generally positive experiences like social video calls can lead to exhaustion if you are not careful. The last thing we want is getting burned out from too many Zoom happy hours. Business leaders should help teams develop positive experiences that encourage work-life balance by:

  • spearheading team calls that involve a non-work related activity like trivia or home fitness classes
  • encouraging flexible hours so employees can center work around their life, instead of the other way around; some are even exploring a four-day workweek 
  • offering meeting-free days or even afternoons to help reduce Zoom fatigue 
  • schedule regular recharge hours, where employees are asked to step away from their desks and do something personal, such as exercise, getting outside, or reading a book

We all hope this year will be different from 2020, and it may even bring the end of the pandemic and the beginning of (another) new normal. But even with that in mind, the return to work won’t happen overnight, which means we’ll continue to face remote work challenges, mental health dilemmas and physical safety concerns. Organizations will need to protect their employees and promote a positive, healthy mindset to help ease the stress and uncertainty in the coming months. The battle of the pandemic is not yet over, but there are a number of ways we can all ensure a journey of wellness, health and safety this year.