The Return to the Office: Understanding Employee Anxiety

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The past few years have witnessed a transformation in the world of work, driven primarily by the COVID-19 pandemic. Remote work became the norm, leading to a fundamental shift in how employees approached their professional lives. 

As we move towards a phased return to the office, it’s crucial to acknowledge that not all workers are eager to resume in-person work. 

In this article, we will delve into why employees may be feeling anxious about returning to the office and how you can help create a supportive and welcoming workspace.


Loss of Remote Work Flexibility


Remote work during the pandemic offered employees a newfound sense of flexibility. Being able to customise their work environment, eliminate daily commutes, and attain a better work-life balance has become a cherished aspect of work. The prospect of returning to the office full-time can be unsettling for those who have embraced this newfound freedom.


To address this, companies can consider adopting a hybrid work model. This approach allows employees to divide their time between the office and remote work, preserving some of the benefits of flexibility while fostering in-person collaboration when necessary.


Interested in hybrid working for your business? Read more in our guide all about how to successfully implement hybrid working


Fear of Change


Change, even when it signifies a return to a pre-pandemic routine, can be unsettling for many. Employees have grown accustomed to the comforts of their home offices, where they have control over their work environment. The return to the office represents a shift in their daily routine, and the unfamiliarity of this transition can trigger anxiety.


To ease this transition, companies should provide clear communication and guidance about the return to the office plan.Offering employees opportunities to provide input on the return strategy can empower them and reduce anxiety, creating a sense of ownership in the process.


Concerns About Office Politics


Navigating office politics and interpersonal dynamics can be challenging. Remote work allowed many employees to sidestep these challenges. The return to the office may reintroduce them, leading to concerns about conflict with team members, uncomfortable situations, or strained relationships in the workplace.


Companies can address this by fostering a positive workplace culture built on respect and inclusivity. Providing training in conflict resolution and emotional intelligence can empower employees to navigate potential conflicts effectively, promoting a more harmonious and collaborative work environment.


For more tips on creating a collaborative company culture, check out our recent article here.


Commuting Challenges


The daily commute to the office poses another significant source of anxiety for employees. After months of remote work, the prospect of returning to crowded public transportation, enduring traffic congestion, or dealing with long commutes can be a daunting prospect.


Employers can mitigate this concern by offering flexible commuting options. Staggered start times, remote work alternatives, or subsidies for commuting expenses can alleviate the stress associated with commuting, making the return to the office more palatable.


Health and Safety Concerns


On the minds of many employees as they begin returning to the office, is the issue of health and safety. COVID-19 prompted a heightened awareness of hygiene and social distancing. The fear of contracting the virus in a shared workspace remains a significant concern, especially if vaccination rates are not universally high.


To address these concerns effectively, companies must place a premium on health and safety measures as employees return to work after COVID. Rigorous sanitisation protocols, proper ventilation, adding office screens to workplace desks, and clear communication of safety guidelines can help reduce employee anxiety and instil confidence in a safe working environment.


Creating a Comfortable Workspace


At Whiteleys, we recognise the importance of crafting a welcoming and adaptable workspace that addresses the concerns of employees. Our expertise in office furniture and design can be instrumental in easing the transition back to the office.


Ergonomic Furniture


We offer a comprehensive range of ergonomic office furniture, including ergonomic office chairs, and height-adjustable desks, designed for increased comfort, well-being and productivity.


Ergonomic chairs are thoughtfully designed with ergonomic principles in mind, providing optimal lumbar support, adjustable armrests, and customisable features to accommodate a wide range of body types and preferences. These chairs can provide a welcome relief for employees returning to the office, who have experienced the discomfort of unsuitable or makeshift seating arrangements whilst working remotely.


Height-adjustable desks cater to the evolving needs of the modern workplace. These desks grant users the flexibility to easily adjust the desk’s height, accommodating employees of varying statures, and enable the transition between seated and standing positions. This not only encourages improved posture but also mitigates the potential health risks linked to prolonged sitting.


Dynamic Spaces


A modern office thrives on being flexible in its layout and setup. It should offer a range of workspaces that cater to different needs. This includes open spaces for teamwork, quiet corners for focused work, meeting rooms equipped with the latest tech for both virtual and in-person meetings, and comfy breakout areas for casual interactions and relaxation. 


It’s also important to mix things up with individual workstations, such as pods, and more interactive work areas, such as bench desks, for employees who seek privacy whilst they work and those who prefer a more collaborative office space alike, boosting productivity for all.


Custom Solutions


Recognising that every workplace is unique, we collaborate closely with you to create custom office solutions tailored to your specific needs and preferences.


Our team of experts can assist in helping you decide the best way forward for you to achieve the best use of your workplace, ensuring a safe, efficient and productive environment through our office space planning and design services. 


With Whiteleys as your partner, the return to the office becomes an opportunity for transformation rather than a return to the past. Our commitment to creating functional, safe, and engaging workspaces aligns perfectly with the requirements of a phased return to work.




Worker anxiety about returning to the office after COVID is a valid concern that employers must address proactively. 


By acknowledging and addressing employee anxiety through thoughtful measures, including considering the adoption of a hybrid working model for employee flexibility, implementing robust health and safety measures to ensure a safe workplace, fostering a collaborative workplace culture that prioritises employee well-being, and using custom design solutions to facilitate these changes, companies can navigate this transition with confidence.


The return to the office should be viewed as an opportunity to create a workplace that not only accommodates the immediate needs of employees but also fosters long-term productivity and well-being.

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