How to Return to the Office Safely, According to Experts

By K Health
Medically reviewed
July 21, 2021

As people continue to get vaccinated, employers and employees are starting to think seriously about what returning to the workplace looks like. 

Companies (including K Health!) are definitely nervous about simply sauntering back into normal work life. It’s unreasonable to expect that things will go back to normal immediately, but there are ways to get ready.  

We’ve talked to our medical and leadership teams about what they recommend employees, including those at K, think about as the inevitable phasing back to daily office life begins.

We also did a poll of People Like You to see who is returning back to in-person work, and how they feel about it.

Returning To The Office by Industry

Industries like healthcare, education and retail are seeing over 60% of people returning to work in-person full-time.

This makes sense––many medical procedures need to be performed in person (and many healthcare workers haven’t been working remotely at all), teachers will be returning to the classroom to teach students face-to-face again, and as restrictions lift across the country, people are looking to eat and shop in person rather than online.

In contrast, less than 30% of people working in technology are going back to the office full-time.

This also makes sense––the nature of the work in tech lends itself to working from home. What was surprising, though, was seeing that 47% of people working in telecommunications were not returning to the office at all.

Comfort Levels of Returning to the Office by Industry

People Like You working in telecommunications were the least comfortable at the prospect of returning to work, averaging a 2.5 on a scale of 1 to 5, compared to people in tech, government and the creative industries, who averaged a 3.2.

Telecom giants like Ericsson are opting to let employees work from home, and research has shown that the IT and telecommunications fields have the highest potential for remote work.

Millennials are hesitant to return to the office

Our poll of People Like You tells us that, on average, Millennials are the least comfortable with returning to work.

According to a survey by Citrix, 90% of people born after 1981 do not want to return to the office, preferring a hybrid model.

Over half of them prefer a hybrid model that involves working from home for most or all of the week. Of millennials specifically, 50% question the wisdom of returning to the office.

In contrast, Gen Z and Baby Boomers are the most comfortable at the prospect of returning to the workplace.

This might be because younger workers have grown attached to the new way of working. Working from home has brought with it little to no time to commute or get ready, flexible hours, and has saved money. 

Millennials are also the generation most concerned about their physical and mental health.

The move back to the office has raised worries about the Delta variant, especially among Millennials.

This is surprising, as K’s survey shows that Millennials and Gen Z are the age group who are least likely to be vaccinated, and research shows that vaccine skepticism is higher now amongst these age groups than older adults.

Unlike Boomers, who see the office as a staple of work, younger workers have gotten used to working from home, and they see it as completely normal.

In fact, some new hires haven’t even visited their employer’s office at all! This begs the question––why are Gen Z more comfortable with going back?

With the older members of Gen Z, who are aged 15 to 24, recently entering the workforce, many of them are very familiar with remote work.

However, returning to the office means people can rebuild social connections, combat loneliness, and have less distractions. Going back to the office also helps create a firmer boundary between work and home life.

People in Smaller Companies are More Comfortable Returning to the Office

People Like You said that the smaller the company, the more comfortable they were with returning to their workplace.

On a scale of 1 to 5, people working at a company with less than 11 people on average rated their comfortability with returning to work as a 3.7, but those in companies with more than 200 employees on average only rated their comfortability at a 3.0.

This could be because office spaces with more people in them are less likely to be socially distanced and are more likely to transmit infections through shared surfaces or the air.

It’s a pretty big change from the last year of tens of millions of people socially distancing and working from home!

So What Can I Do?

Whether you are worried about returning to the workplace, or looking to help your co-workers adjust, there are many different steps you can take as we make our way back to the office.

Get Vaccinated

This one seems obvious, but worth saying, according to K Health’s VP of Medical, Dr. Edo Paz.

“Getting vaccinated is still the most important thing you can do to protect yourself as the world returns to daily life,” he says. 

The coronavirus vaccines reduce your risk of acquiring the illness by up to 95%, and reduce your risk of severe illness by almost 100%. It’s the best way to protect yourself—especially if you take public transport or work in small spaces. 

Understand your Company’s Return to Work Plan

Companies, including K Health, are working hard on their safety protocols, and it’s important you get familiar with and follow them. 

Scott Chesrown, COO of K Health, is part of the team leading the charge for getting our team back safely.

“We’re so happy to finally have our offices reopening, but we continue to put a ton of thought and effort into how to do this right,” said Scott. “Our employees’ health is our number 1 priority, and we hope between staggering when different teams come in, properly spacing our desks, and requiring vaccination or negative COVID tests will help ensure our working environment is, and feels, safe.” 

Other things employers are doing to keep employees safe include:

  • capping meeting sizes
  • disinfecting surfaces and shared equipment
  • investing in ventilation systems
  • spacing desks and chairs 6 feet apart
  • encouraging masks for those that still want to wear one
  • requiring vaccination (on June 1, 2021 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said it’s legal for employers to require vaccines, unless they have a medical reason to not) 

Make sure you ask about all procedures and guidelines. Not only will this make you feel more safe, but it will help keep your coworkers safe, too.

Stay Home if You Feel Sick

Even if you follow all safety protocols, you’ll inevitably touch a shared surface or breathe in shared air.

If you feel sick, make sure to stay home. Better safe than sorry, as it’s one way to keep illness at bay. Dr. Allon Mordel, Senior Director of Medical at K Health, recommends that employees stay home if they are experiencing symptoms, including:

If you have mild symptoms, you should still get a PCR coronavirus test before heading into the office. It’s unlikely you have COVID-19 if you’re vaccinated, have mild symptoms, and have a negative PCR test.

If you’re sick, just think about what you used to pre-COVID do if we felt under the weather. If you’re unsure about protocols, ask your manager.

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Wash. Your. Hands. 

You’ve heard it before but it’s worth repeating—wash your hands and wash them often

Hand washing will prevent you from spreading (and picking up) germs—coronavirus or others.  

Social Distance, When Possible

Physical distancing is another great way to prevent the spread of bacteria, viruses, and germs. If possible, sit at least 6 feet away from your coworkers.

This is especially important if you or a family member at home is unvaccinated. Keeping your distance will help minimize the risk of acquiring and transmitting COVID-19.

Don’t be Ashamed to Wear a Mask if you Want (and Don’t Make Mask Wearers Feel Uncomfortable)

Wearing a mask is still one of the most important things you can do to protect yourself and those around you from COVID-19, especially if you’re unvaccinated. 

Research shows that among unvaccinated persons, mask wearing can reduce the incidence of COVID-19 by up to 37%. However, if you’re vaccinated but feel safer in a mask, go ahead and wear one. The research shows that it can’t hurt.

If you’re using public transport to get to work, mask wearing is mandatory in many places. For the New Yorkers at K Health, we’re still wearing ours on the subway commute. 

Go Easy on Yourself and Your Coworkers

Everyone is easing back into daily life at their own pace and it’s important to respect each other’s boundaries, especially in the workplace.

For example, if you’re not wearing a mask, be compassionate to those that are. 

If you find yourself feeling stressed about returning to work, make sure you express that to your manager. Talking about your concerns and boundaries can help everyone make better decisions about returning to the office. 

This is an unprecedented situation—we need to remember that after a long time at home, we may need some extra time to get used to our “new normal.”