Returning to work? What to expect from your first day back in the office

Most lockdown measures have now been lifted across England after the Government made changes to restrictions on July 19, which has been dubbed “Freedom Day”.

As part of the changes to the measures, the official home office order has ended, so that many can now return to the office. Additionally, indoors, the rule of six has now been scrapped and the social distancing advice is no longer used.

But Government guidance on returning to work means there will be less of a rush to the office from this date, as the Prime Minister has urged businesses to take a phased approach over the summer instead.

Workplaces have been told not to allow all staff to return to the office en masse, with Mr Johnson stressing he expects a “gradual” transition to pre-pandemic work practices.

So, with restrictions lifted, it’s worth preparing for an eventual return to the office in the coming weeks.

Preparation is key to getting through the first week and guides have been published for different sectors of the economy advising companies on how to operate and protect their employees after the pandemic.

Bosses have been told to set up mental health hotlines for anxious employees as part of Whitehall’s official guidance. Whilst mask wearing in offices is highly recommended, along with the use of plexiglass screens to separate desks and the formation of ‘tight teams’ for employees to limit the number of people they come into contact with.

As the prevalence of the disease remains high, the advice says people should continue to limit their contact with others outside of the household – which could at least be a practical excuse to skip awkward work communities.

Here’s everything you can expect when you return.

1. The death of the round of tea

It was once the pinnacle of British office etiquette, but is tea going down the drain anytime soon? After a year of being told to wash our hands and wipe down surfaces, the thought of other people fiddling with our cups and teabags just feels a little wrong.

In fact, we’ve always been a bit suspicious of the dull beige tones returning from the office kitchen. Still, we’ll miss the convenience — and the gossip.

2. Lunch Break Policy

In the old normal, there was only one choice: salad or sandwich? Now there are so many questions: is it worth sitting together for lunch, or is it best to eat it separately from others as cases rise? Is there a Slack channel to organize stuff like this? And when it’s your turn to miss the lunchtime outing, is it still hygienic to dine at Al-Desko?

3. Plexiglas screens

The bulky partitions are both a curse and a blessing. For those who enjoy a good chinwag, the new setup means you don’t have to whisper to your colleague about Steve from Marketing’s lockdown mullet. They also make personal space etiquette difficult to navigate: stepping into a compartment for a chat seems a little intrusive, but floating awkwardly outside makes you seem distant. On the plus side, they keep other people from snooping around on your desk. If you’re missing your WFH setup, add a curtain for a cozy touch.

4. The etiquette of taking a sick day

It’s a double-edged sword. If you call in sick, everyone will assume you have the virus and will not be within five meters of you for several weeks. In preparation, add a small disclaimer at the end of your out-of-office email: “I’m very sick with the flu and I most certainly don’t have Covid.” But if you get sick, expect the same fate. Sick days that were once frowned upon are permitted and perhaps even desirable in times of Covid. In the middle of a pandemic, no one wants to sit next to someone sniffling and coughing — no matter how many layers of plexiglass in between. Returning to work? What to expect from your first day back in the office

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