5 challenges that will influence our office work as Covid-19 is still a risk

The office we left will not be the office we’ll return to.

It’s been two months since we were sent into a nationwide shutdown. From one day to the next we found ourselves at home office. Now two months later a slow and sure trend can be seen: infection rates are dropping and piece by piece national restrictions are being relaxed. This includes many people slowly returning to their offices and for some, this gives the impression of a return to normality. But this appearance is deceptive.The everyday office life that we have left in such a hurry will not be comparable to the one we will return to.

Instead of a long-awaited welcome back party in the office, we have to come to terms with the idea that a transition back to normality will take time. We have to get used to the fact that our accustomed everyday life will be affected by a few restrictions in the form of adherence to social distancing rules and hygiene standards. We have put together the five challenges we have to face for the time to come.

Until now these have been empty for nearly two months. Soon they’ll be occupied again. Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Until now these have been empty for nearly two months. Soon they’ll be occupied again. Photo by Annie Spratton @Unsplash

1. Keep your distance — but enjoy virtual meeting sessions

Social distancing rules still apply in everyday life even though we see restrictions overall being loosended. This means that we must continue to keep a distance of two metres between each other and not be in the same room with too many people at the same time. For many open-space offices this will become a real challenge. Considerations about the introduction of shift operation-like conditions are becoming louder. But even for smaller offices these rules present a challenge. Fully occupied rooms must be avoided. A sensible planning of when which employees can use the office can help here. Event though this means we can not see our favorite colleagues every day. Therefor virtual meeting sessions are becoming even more important. Video as a medium of communication has become indispensable. Even though many companies have so far been reluctant to set up a technological infrastructure in their employees’ home offices, the current crisis revealed exactly these grievances. Many companies have recognized the need during the shutdown and have quickly converted. Video calls are hardly a challenge anymore to handle our daily work at safe distance. However, they should not only be used for work meetings, but also to encourage the team spirit. Regular after work drinks or lunch sessions can help colleagues or employees to deal with isolation.

2. Don’t return full-time — yet

Just as restrictions are gradually being relaxed, we should do the same with our return to the office. It’s been going great of working from home for two months. Why should we now rush back to being five days at the office and expose ourselves to unnecessary health risks? Better to start slowly with only a few hours a week and then gradually and safely increase. Half-manned offices also make it easier to keep a safe distance of two metres and reduce the risk of infection.

3. Maintain hygiene standards — it’s not only about washing hands

Regular hand washing had been advised before the shutdown, this recommendation still applies. Wearing masks has already become a must in everyday life when riding the train or shopping. Some employers also demand the wearing of masks in the office. This may seem unfamiliar or unpleasant at first, but with time you get used to it and contribute to reduce the risk of infection. Especially when working in open spaces that have no partitions, wearing masks is all the more important.

4. Ensure a safe working environment — keep your desk clean

Surfaces, door handles, etc. should be cleaned regularly to ensure a clean working atmosphere for employees and colleagues. But one should not only rely on the use of cleaning staff. In general, everyone is required to keep their workplace tidy and clean.

5. Lunch break at a distance — but not alone

Going out for lunch with colleagues to eat in a restaurant or cooking with several people in a shared office kitchen will not be possible for the time being. This does not mean that breaks need necessarily be spent alone. A lunch together with distance is possible, but should not exceed two people. When using the communal kitchen, not too many people should use the space at the same time and everyone has to remove their leftovers properly.

These challenges will accompany us for quite some time.

However, getting upset about them or fighting them would have fatal consequences. Instead, we should learn to deal with the regulations in our everyday life to resume our former life and routines as good as possible. Especially if we now return too quickly the storms of our old life, we risk a second wave of infection. When we return to our office we should make sure that we follow the rules in order not to expose ourselves and our colleagues to risks. Even if this means wearing uncomfortable masks or not having lunch in larger groups during our breaks. The past two months have shown us that working from home works better than many had previously deemed. Once again it has become clear that video is an indispensable means of communication in many areas — not only home office.

We must not confuse the gradual relaxation of exit restrictions with a return to normality. We are still in the middle of the pandemic. If we take one step at a time, slowly and surely, and if we adhere to hygiene and distance rules in our working environment, we can hope for return to normality soon. It is crucial for everyone returning to their work spaces to stick to these rules and to not underestimate them.

About the author:

Mona Ciotta is working as Strategic Business Development Manager at the digital health start-up “medudoc” in Berlin. Coming from a digital marketing background she is now working on bridging the digital gap of evolved patient expectations, arbitrary regulations and economical pressured healthcare providers like hospitals and doctors. Through video animation, medudoc digitizes, automates and standardizes the analog and tedious practice of patient education before a medical intervention. You can contact her via mail (mona.ciotta@medudoc.com) and LinkedIn.