VP of Health Population Management at Argus, Shakira Warner talks about the importance of considering the pros and cons of returning to the office in an ongoing pandemic.
These are unprecedented times. Not only are we experiencing a global health crisis unlike anything we have lived through before, but we are asking questions that have never previously crossed our minds. Is it safe to visit my parents? How do I approach simple excursions like shopping or more complex events like travel? How can I protect my mental health when I am isolated from others? What does work look like for me once it’s safe to return to the office?
So many ongoing and sweeping changes in our lives can make it difficult to answer these questions, but the population health management team at The Argus Group can help. Argus is a leader in providing holistic health and wellness resources that address both individual and population well-being: social, physical and mental. These days that includes supporting people in assessing whether to continue to work from home or return to the office when their employer offers a choice.
“Key things to consider are the nature of the business, your work and role, your team, and your personal needs,” says Shakira Warner, VP of population health management at Argus. “If your company leadership has given parameters for remote or hybrid working, it’s important to evaluate how your environment enhances your ability to achieve goals and targets within your team. Have a conversation with your team about what works best regarding remote working scenarios and what can be improved.”
Also important in assessing remote, hybrid or in-office options is being realistic about trade-offs, adds Shakira. How can you take advantage of in-person mentorship or social opportunities with peers? In addition, do you prefer to keep your home and workspace separate or combined under one roof? Taking time to reflect on what matters most to you is important, as is seeking advice from your doctor and direct manager if health or family care needs are best met by remote working.
When it comes to staying healthy after returning to work, keep in mind that employees and employers share responsibility in ensuring the workplace is safe. Employers must have clear, practical and enforceable workplace health and safety protocols. Employees must prioritise personal hygiene measures, respect all travel-related policies, get tested if they may have been exposed to COVID-19, and stay home if they or a household member is ill. “We’re all in this together,” says Shakira. “We can reduce the risk of spread in the workplace when we collectively commit to taking care of ourselves and each other by following all of the health protocols.”
With “Zoom fatigue” on the rise, employees also have questions about whether in-person meetings are safe and can be resumed. Stanford researchers have identified four stresses of videoconferencing that can lead to burnout: excessive amounts of close-up eye contact, seeing oneself during video chats, reduction in physical movement and a higher cognitive load owing to non-verbal communication signals being harder to send and receive.
“Virtual meetings are here to stay,” says Shakira. “But because they drain our energy and productivity, they shorten our attention spans. So I advise keeping them to 20–30 minutes, with an agenda. This will allow for visual and posture breaks to prevent strain injuries. When tackling challenging issues or difficult conversations, meeting in person is best. If meeting virtually, ensure everyone has their video turned on to help as much as possible with catching those non-verbal communication cues.”
Shakira emphasises that it’s normal to feel stressed or anxious about returning to a physical workplace as the pandemic carries on. It’s also important to identify the root of those feelings. Are they based on personal safety? A sense of loss of autonomy? The social and relational aspects of being physically present? Depending on personality and circumstances, different elements have different impacts. “Some people find it helpful to write their concerns down,” says Shakira. “That helps to make sense of the feelings. I also suggest talking to someone you trust, whether a parent, friend, teacher, spiritual resource, mentor, someone in the employee assistance programme or a licensed professional such as a psychologist.”
Most of all—and despite how it sometimes feels—it’s important to remember that none of us is alone. If something positive has come out of this pandemic, it’s the shared experience of finding our way through it: friends, neighbours, family members and colleagues are all in the same boat. Together we can cope with change and with difficult decisions around returning to work, in constructive ways.
The Argus Group offers a wide range of Group Health Insurance plans as well as financial products and services. To learn more about Argus, visit www.argus.bm or call 298-0888