A woman with short hair wearing a black blazer with arms folded smiling at the camera in front of a wall that says CIPD in purple lettering.
Mary Connaughton, CIPD Ireland. Image: © Paul Sherwood

The return to offices needs to be ‘thoughtfully dealt with’

20 Sep 2021

CIPD Ireland is urging employers to be mindful of anxious workers as they face ‘another round of upheaval’ with the return to offices.

Today (20 September), thousands of workers will begin re-entering their workplaces as part of the phased return to the office.

While many industry bodies welcomed the news when it was first announced at the end of August, HR body CIPD Ireland said many of its members, both employees and employers, have expressed concerns in the run-up to the changeover.

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“For some workers, today will mark a return to a workplace which they haven’t seen since March 2020, and there’s no doubt it will feel and look different,” said Mary Connaughton, CIPD Ireland director.

“In the coming weeks they will have to cope with changes to the work practices they’ve adopted while working from home during the last year. It’s another round of upheaval, albeit on a planned basis and it should be acknowledged and thoughtfully dealt with.”

While this phased return to offices will help relieve the social isolation many remote workers have been feeling, Connaughton warned that many workers will be feeling anxious too.

“It’s entirely natural and something they and their employers should bear in mind as we continue the journey towards full re-opening,” she said.

Exercising caution

While today marks the first major signal of a return to so-called normal, many remote working advocates have been warning against a blind return to offices for the sake of it.

Speaking to Siliconrepublic.com last week, Rowena Hennigan said leaders must “resist that office-based mentality”.

“Ivory towers and corner skyline offices in downtown urban centres could become a thing of the past, but leaders must realise the macro and socio-economic benefits of remote work by experiencing it first-hand, getting away from their physical workspaces and embracing working remotely,” she said.

It is also important for employers to remember that public health guidelines such as social distancing, the wearing of masks and ensuring proper ventilation remain in place, and the overall return to workplaces must be phased and staggered.

On Friday, 17 August, the Government issued an updated Work Safely Protocol ahead of the return to workplaces stating that the process must be handled “in a cautious and careful manner” and should be done with appropriate attendance levels in line with public health guidance, staggered arrangements and flexible working hours.

In addition, it said attendance should initially be for “specific business requirements”.

And, while workers can begin returning to their offices from today, new legislation around the right to request remote work is still considered a priority for the Government.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said that although public health advice no longer recommends working from home, he hopes employers are speaking to their staff to figure out what works best for them and the business.

“We really want to see remote working become a permanent fixture of Irish working life. The pandemic has shown us that it can be done and I hope we can learn from what worked and incorporate it post-Covid,” he said.

CIPD Ireland also warned against complacency around Covid-19 symptoms as the return to offices begins.

“People have shown an amazing level of personal responsibility around getting tested and vaccinated and that needs to continue,” said Connaughton.

“People with symptoms must not go to work, if symptoms develop they must leave the workplace and employers have the right to request someone to leave and self-isolate. Every effort must be made to guard against any chance of workplaces becoming a source of spreading infection.”

Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the deputy editor of Silicon Republic in 2020, having worked as the careers editor until June 2019. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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