Covid-19: our practical advice for a smooth return to work

  • Dialog, listening and viewpoints

Back to work at last, finally returning to our colleagues, our routine and our daily environment – or almost... Because the Covid-19 pandemic remains active and emergence from lockdown (for countries that imposed it) is being approached with understandable caution.

Between our normal routine being turned upside down, health concerns, legitimate expectations and new habits to adopt, returning to work is not always easy. 

We have therefore sought valuable advice from Dr. Geneviève Thiaucourt, Medical and Occupational Health Director of the Saint-Gobain Group, and Dr. Catherine Badinier, the Group's head office doctor and behavioral therapist.

The crisis and its successive stages

“Emerging from a crisis first involves accepting the impact of what you have been though,” explains Dr. Thiaucourt. Many of us have been placed in a state of uncertainty, deprived of freedom, forced to adapt to a whole host of new rules and bewildering social phenomena. Some have legitimately feared for their lives or that of their loved ones.

“But fortunately, after the period of shock that affected us all, we have adapted, adjusted our lifestyles to this more or less transient reality,” adds the Medical Director. By adapting, we have rebuilt our family cocoons, seeking comfort and well-being as soon as we were able. “We have learned to connect with other people in a different way, adopted new tools, discovered new interests, learned a lot about ourselves and our unexpected resilience,” explains Dr. Badinier.

“What state of mind am I in?”

So we return to work “augmented” by all these more or less complex experiences. But it is important to remember that we are all in a different state of mind. Our managers need to be fully aware of this, warns Dr. Thiaucourt. “What state of mind am I in? – that is the fundamental question we should all ask ourselves to take stock of our expectations in this post-Covid-19 world of work.”

Whether an employee or a manager, the hiatus we have recently been through has created expectations for each of us. Aspirations for greater autonomy, a desire to redefine our role, to feel recognized and understood, to set new challenges...

“We have all changed, together – even though the experience of this crisis is infinitely personal, specific to each of us,” says Dr. Badinier. “And rejoining your teams and your colleagues is an opportunity to rediscover yourself and to pool our individual experiences to collectively build a mature and shared vision of our professional roles.”

Five practical tips for a smoother return to work

1. Thank and value all employees and all colleagues: those on the front line as well as those who stayed at home.

2. Promote free speech: before resuming normal working life, first take the time for a group discussion and, most importantly, be attentive and sympathetic – without forgetting colleagues who are absent. The objective is to promote cohesion and sharing to enable everyone to express their feelings about the crisis and dare to make suggestions to improve our approach to this new reality.

3. Initiate new reflections: although not everything has been affected, the crisis has shaken our habits, our routines and many of the things we took for granted. This recovery is an opportunity to rethink processes, redefine the working environment and identify any resources required.

4. Put the situation in perspective and redefine objectives to plan ahead for 2021

5. And above all: everyone must have access to support and, in addition, take action if you notice a colleague in distress.

Active listening: what is it?

“Active listening involves focusing your attention on the other person and allowing them to speak as much as possible (70% of the conversation) while allowing bubbles of silence to appear,” explains Dr. Thiaucourt. “These pauses allow the other person to reflect and develop their thinking. Active listening also involves reformulating the words of the person you are talking to. Finally, it means demonstrating your attention through your gaze, expression and physical posture.”

Returning to work in the time of Covid-19: a fantastic opportunity to restore meaning

While Covid-19 risks impacting our personal and professional lives for many months to come, we should be careful not to pretend that nothing has happened, warn the occupational doctors. “This period is unprecedented, uncertain and sometimes traumatic. So let’s avoid trying to suddenly return to normal and rushing things. The automatic continuation of previous projects, with the same objectives, is not necessarily realistic or beneficial,” warns Dr. Badinier.


Clearly, in these very unusual times, meeting up with our colleagues again and returning to our daily responsibilities present numerous potential issues... but this is also an opportunity for everyone to reinvent themselves, to work together to build a new vision of our professional roles as a team. “This Covid-19 crisis is ultimately an opportunity to rethink our working methods, to embrace the tools that proved useful at the height of the crisis and, above all... to take the time to listen. To listen to our colleagues, our employees and to ourselves,” concludes Dr. Thiaucourt.

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