The end is in sight. It feels like forever since we’ve got to hang out with our co-workers and at long last the time is coming for us to hug and shake hands again. But that doesn’t mean everybody will be comfortable with that as soon as it’s allowed.
Many of us will assume that things are ‘back to normal’ and will continue to do things like we used to, but is that really the best way forward? There’s a plethora of lessons to take with us when returning to the office, these are just a few.
1 – Don’t assume everyone is comfortable with being touched.
If this pandemic has taught us anything, it should be that touching people is one of the easiest ways to contract illnesses. Not everyone will be comfortable with this form of interaction straight away. Many people were germaphobes (or just very germ aware) before the pandemic struck and those numbers have only increased. Ask people if it’s okay to hug them/shake their hand. Don’t be offended if they say no, or even if you see them do those things with someone else. It isn’t personal, they’re just looking out for their health and safety.
The days of randomly patting the backs of co-workers or shaking the hands of every person you meet are behind us. If you are going to do those things make sure to ask for consent and regularly wash/sanitize your hands. You have a responsibility to protect the people you meet from getting sick. Ensuring we aren’t carelessly spreading germs is an excellent lesson to carry with us into a post-COVID world.
2 – A vaccine doesn’t mean no mask.
It truly baffles me that it took a global pandemic for the Western world to embrace wearing masks. We know it’s been a thing in Eastern Asia for quite some time and is a very effective way of preventing the spread of disease. Just because you may be vaccinated against COVID-19, it doesn’t mean you should throw all your masks in the trash. If you haven’t already moved on from disposable masks (that cause lots of waste), invest in a cloth mask that you can wash and disinfect!
Stores and public transport may still require masks as scientists continue to study if we can pass on the virus on even with the vaccine. Wearing a mask when you’re sick (no matter how mildly) should be a common practice within our culture. We’ve all got used to how easy it is to keep a mask in your bag/pocket/car and slip it on when you need to. Let’s carry this behaviour into a more clean, thoughtful world and strive to keep each other safe.
3 – Approach conversations about vaccines with open minds.
This goes for both the pro-vaccine and anti-vaccine argument. Treating people who are hesitant about the vaccine as the same as anti-vaxxers is only going to do more harm than good.
The conversation around the COVID-19 vaccine will undoubtedly come up at some point. You should approach vaccine hesitancy with compassion and understanding. Insulting a person for what they believe won’t get anyone anywhere, instead try to understand where they’re coming from. People have mistrusted vaccines from the day they were first introduced.
Approach conversations with empathetic responses and scientifically backed evidence to support your arguments. Hard facts allow people to make educated decisions, especially when the source is you, a caring peer.
Also, don’t try to force anyone to get the vaccine. Telling people what to do with their bodies is always wrong, even if they aren’t doing the best thing for it. Information and education should be at the heart of any discussion in this area. And, if you aren’t informed enough to have this conversation with them, recommend that they have a chat with their GP.
4 – Take responsibility for your team.
Check the science yourself, don’t rush back into ‘normalcy’ as soon as the government says so (we saw how that turned out). People have come to distrust those at the top of our country more and more throughout this pandemic. The lack of clarity from our government has made it clear that we can’t rely on them to look out for our health.
Maintaining a diligent responsibility for our own wellbeing and the people we work with will keep us safe. Let’s get in to the habit of looking out for each other and doing what’s best for us as a whole, not just as individuals. Taking leadership and speaking up when you see virus-spreading behaviour may come across as stickling, but when you frame it as “for the good of the team” people will start to understand.
5 – Have fun and keep it safe!
You haven’t seen your co-workers in over a year. Go out for dinner, play some games, organise a fun team-building event; whatever you do, you deserve to max out on fun! This year has taught us to not take our social lives for granted, because we never know when we could lose it again. That said, don’t throw caution to the wind during social time and keep each other safe. Being considerate will make everyone feel at ease and you’ll be able to relax and enjoy yourselves.