Returning to Work After COVID-19: What to Expect

wide angle view of busy design office with workers at desks

More than a year after the COVID-19 pandemic initially forced the implementation of shelter in place and social distancing regulations throughout the US, many business owners and employees are still wondering what life will look like after the coronavirus pandemic ends and life gets back to “normal.”

With such an unprecedented situation upon us, it’s difficult to know exactly what “normal” will look like when we emerge on the other side.

In the wake of the pandemic’s wide-sweeping effects, we’re confident in saying that everyday life will likely look a bit different. There’s a very good chance things will never be quite the same. 

While many people are feeling overwhelmed by the ongoing crisis, some are feeling additional anxiety as they gear up to return to the workplace after working from home for an extended period of time throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Office Life Following the COVID-19 Pandemic

We can’t say for sure how it’s all going to go down once we’re no longer required to socially isolate and work from home, but we do have a few predictions about what you can expect when it comes to returning to the office following the pandemic. 

Open Office Plans May Begin to Phase Out

Research has shown that people working in open and shared office spaces tend to take more sick days than those in more traditional workspaces with individual offices for employees. With fears about contagious disease heightened, we may begin to see the end of open office plans.

You can read more about COVID-19 and its impact on open office floor plans here. 

More Focus on Office Cleanliness

Concerns about the spread of germs will be at an all time high, which means there will likely be an extra emphasis on office cleanliness – especially in offices with shared spaces! Be prepared for extra cleaning duties, more frequent wipe-downs, and an overall renewed effort to keep the office germ-free.

Here are some spring cleaning tips – appropriate for anytime, really – to get you started on cleaning your workspace when you get back to the office.

Workers Returning in Phases

While there is no definitive plan for how non-essential workers will return to work, there have been discussions about returning in phases. We don’t know exactly what that will look like, but we do know that there will likely be an emphasis on reducing close contact with others in order to limit the spread of disease when the shelter-in-place orders have been lifted.

This could mean that some employees continue working from home while others return to the office, or it might mean that one half of the office alternates days with the other half to keep the volume of people in close contact with each other down. 

No matter how your workplace chooses to handle the return to a new ‘normal’ after the pandemic has subsided, be sure to brush up on your post-pandemic office etiquette so you’re prepared to re-engage with colleagues and coworkers appropriately.

People Will Be Extra Wary of Sickness

If you are the kind of person that still goes into the office when you have a case of the sniffles, be warned: following this pandemic, people will be extra wary of office sickness. Don’t be surprised if you get dirty looks from your coworkers if you’re sneezing – even if you’re sneezing due to non-contagious allergies. 

Keep this in mind and try to be extra cognizant and considerate of making those you work with uncomfortable. If you’re feeling at all under the weather, take a sick day or work from home instead.

Need some tips for avoiding office sickness? Here are 10 ways to steer clear of sickness in the winter that can work for you any time of the year. 

Mask Requirements

It’s likely that those workplaces that do begin to bring workers back into the office will require some kind of face covering, at the very least when people are in close proximity and unable to maintain social distance.

Masks have proven to be among the most effective tools to combat the spread of COVID-19, and as a result, they will likely be an important aspect of the return-to-work strategy for employers looking to keep their employees safe and healthy.

While masks are a key tool when it comes to re-opening safely for some businesses, they can complicate some aspects of work life and communication. Don’t let this deter you! These tips for communicating effectively while wearing a mask can help.

Limited Social Interactions

If you love working in the office because you’re a social butterfly, be warned: the social aspect of working alongside your colleagues may be a bit more limited once we’re all able to return to work. Group social events may be less frequent, and outings may be limited as well. Extra activities that could encourage increased close contact probably won’t be a good idea when we all first return to work. 

That said, you may still be able to do some in-office team building activities if you’re looking for a way to get your team back on track. Here are a few ideas you might be able to use as a jumping off point.

Offices Are Not Going to Vanish Completely

While the trend towards remote work is a strong one, especially in the wake of this global pandemic, it’s highly unlikely that the office as we know it will disappear completely. Many businesses still rely heavily on their office spaces for connection, collaboration and business development. That being said, there are some post-pandemic office space trends that will likely take hold given the fact that some employees in many workplaces will likely continue working from home.

Learn more about why the office isn’t going anywhere and post-pandemic office space trends here.

Preparing for Work Life After COVID-19

It’s tough to say for sure what exactly work life will look like after the coronavirus pandemic dies down, but based on the information we’ve been able to gather the predictions above seem like a pretty safe bet.

And it’s also very likely that we’ll be feeling the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic for the foreseeable future. Some impacts may change how we do business forever. With that in mind, it’s important to be prepared to be flexible and open to change as we navigate this uncharted territory.

Remember: as overwhelming and anxiety-inducing as this feels, we’re all in this together. Every business owner and employee is facing some kind of routine adjustment or change in how they do business. 

Weighing The Options When it Comes to Returning to the Office vs. Continuing to Work Remotely?

Some companies are considering remote work as a long term option for their employees. There are many benefits to returning to the office, but for some organizations the benefits of working remotely will likely outweigh the benefits of resuming an in-office set up.

Interested in weighing the options for your business? Be sure to check out our post about remote work vs. working in-office, where we explore the pros and cons of both options and help you understand the advantages and disadvantages of each for both employees and employers. You might also find our post about in-person meetings vs. virtual meetings helpful. 

Looking for other resources to help you during the COVID-19 crisis? 

We’ve put together a list of resources for small business owners looking for assistance with recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic that may be useful to you if you’re in need of financial assistance to get your business back on its feet.

We’ve also assembled a list of tips to help you make working from home work for you while non-essential workers continue to work remotely.

Leading during a crisis – especially an ongoing crisis like the Coronavirus pandemic – can be a challenge. Our tips for effective crisis leadership can help you better understand what your team needs from you in this moment.

Curious how the coronavirus is impacting operations here at The Lakeside Park? Find details about our COVID-19 operations relevant to tenants and potential tenants here.

Editor’s Note: This content was originally published in May 2020, but has been updated as of April 2021.