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Feature Article

Workplaces Look Different as We Navigate the Pandemic

For many of us, the world of work has been changed by the pandemic. While those changes may be temporary, others will last well into the future.

With things gearing back up, you may be asked to return to an office you haven’t seen for months. Or perhaps, your company is expanding remote options and you’ll be working from home. Either way, because the coronavirus is still active in our communities, the office environment will be different.

Changes in the Workplace

You may see some changes to your facility such as physical barriers in new places to meet distancing requirements or work areas spaced further apart. There could be new rules regarding elevator use to maintain distancing guidelines.

Entry Screening

Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend daily health checks of employees before entry into the workplace. This could mean requiring that staff members answer screening questions or have their temperature checked before entering the building each day.

“The most important thing is that employees who are sick should stay at home,” said Jill Mackey-Feist, employee health nurse for Samaritan Health Services. “By being self-aware, we can minimize the spread of the coronavirus and other diseases to others. Health checks at the entrances to workplaces are great reminders for us to self-monitor.”

“We all know about fever, cough and shortness of breath/breathing issues being symptoms. We’ve learned that the virus can exhibit other symptoms similar to flu, such as congestion, body aches, chilling, headache, feelings of general malaise and fatigue and gastrointestinal issues. It’s a good idea for employees to take their own temperatures at home and self-evaluate twice a day.”

New Requirements

Employees will likely be asked to wear face masks while on the job and to maintain a six-foot distance from each other. Expect masks available for employees at building entrances and possible decals on the floor to provide visual reminders to stay behind a six-foot perimeter when chatting with coworkers. Also, your workplace will likely have hand disinfectant in prominent locations, especially around high-touch surfaces like doorknobs and elevator buttons.

Bring Your Own

Plan to pack your own coffee and cold lunch options. Common areas such as break rooms with coffee makers and microwaves may be cordoned off to prevent high-touch surface contamination.

Virtual Meetings

When you do have in-person meetings, don’t shake hands. If this will be a difficult habit to break for you, try clasping your hands behind your back or come up with a new way to greet a colleague.

Adjusted Work Hours

In an effort for businesses to operate under the new guidelines, employers may need to stagger workers’ hours so that fewer people are in the building at the same time. Flexibility and self-care can be key coping strategies, said Mackey-Feist.

“The pandemic has thrown us all for a loop and many of us are struggling to find the best way forward. Approaching changes with an attitude of flexibility and finding ways to care for oneself can go a long way in minimizing stress,” she said.

Fewer Carpools

If you are used to commuting with coworkers, consider alternatives until your carpool group is vaccinated. “It is nearly impossible to maintain distancing in a car,” said Mackey-Feist. “We are still learning about how contagious those who are asymptomatic with COVID-19 are, so you should concern yourself with who you are near and maintain physical distancing at least six feet.”

Tips for Working From Home

Many employees who found themselves working unexpectedly from home have been “winging it” with a temporary office space. Now as more employers are moving toward remote work becoming permanent, it’s important to upgrade those work spaces to include an appropriate desk, chair, proper lighting, and other equipment.

“Pay attention to the ergonomics of your space,” said Mackey-Feist. “You want to minimize any strains on your body due to the height or angle of your computer. Your monitor should be in front of you at a level that you look straight at it with your head in a comfortable neutral position.”

She recommends that you align your keyboard, so the letters “G” and “H” are centered with your body. Your forearms and wrists should be at a 90-degree angle or horizontally level with the keyboard. Pay attention to your lighting and make sure you have enough adequate light to minimize eye strain.

“Also, be sure and get up and move around once every hour, at least,” she noted.

Get the Tools You Need for Efficiency

Maybe you need earphones so others in your home aren’t disturbed by your meetings, a telephone landline because your cell reception isn’t adequate or a small desktop printer. Take note of what would make you more efficient and talk with your employer about how to get these tools. Also, don’t let technology be a barrier to your work efficiency. If you need to learn new online meeting apps or remote communications software, take the time to study tutorials and learn the skills you need to work at your best.

Keep a Regular Routine

Many work hours that anchor them to a set schedule, but if your work is more flexible, try to maintain a routine. “We tend to be creatures of habit, and when we lack routine we tend to sleep poorly, eat less nutritionally, and feel more stress,” said Mackey-Feist

“Maintaining some structure can actually help us be healthier. Studies suggest that scheduling times to exercise helps us be more successful in maintaining exercise programs, and going to bed and getting up around the same time each day helps improve our sleep quality,” she said. “Having a set schedule can also make us more efficient with our time, ensuring that we finish the things we must get done each day, which minimizes our stress and anxiety.”

Update Your Employer Regularly

When working remotely it is easy to feel disconnected, so try to maintain regular communications with your coworkers and supervisor. Consider talking with your supervisor about expectations – should you send daily or weekly reports on your work progress? What is the best way to connect each day – an email check-in, a virtual team meeting, a quick phone call? Especially when working remotely, it is critical to resolve any conflicts or get clarification on projects by making a phone call. If in the office setting you would have popped your head in someone’s office to understand something better, reach out by phone rather than email.

Change in the workplace, as in life, is constant and inevitable. But there are ways to navigate that change effectively.

“Attitude and self-awareness matters,” said Mackey-Feist. “We’re not perfect, and some days can be harder than others. By keeping a positive attitude and focusing on solutions rather than on the problems, we can lessen our anxieties and improve our situation.”

Are you sitting all day? Remember it’s important to take regular breaks to prevent back and neck strain.