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Return to Workplace Practical Guide During and Beyond COVID-19


The COVID-19 pandemic has changed everyday life and the way we work – possibly forever. We no longer take good health for granted and, as employers, must do our best to ensure that the physical and mental health of our employees is protected to the best of our ability. This includes a wide range of actions, from reducing the risk of infection in the workplace to taking positive steps to promote good physical and mental health among staff.

As many companies – large and small – all around the region begin welcoming their employees back to the workplace, AXA Asia has compiled this easy-to-read and practical guide as a template for any company to use and adapt for their own purpose. We hope it will help ease both the physical and mental efforts of employees as they move back into permanent working from their normal workplace after a prolonged time working from home due to COVID-19. We believe that many of the techniques we learned while working from home are equally useful as we transition back to the workplace. Ensuring the comfort and safety of returning workers, however, is the overriding principle governing these recommendations.

This is the sister guide to our publication, “Supporting Mental Health of Employees During and Beyond COVID-19 - A Toolkit for Business Leaders and Managers”, co-produced by AXA Asia and Columbia University World Health Organization Centre for Global Mental Health.

We are proud to have developed both guides as we know this is a critical stage for any company. As we say in our other guide, doing this carefully and sensibly is good for everyone in your organisation, and good for business both during and beyond this pandemic.

We welcome your feedback and input; we want to make this transition easier for everyone.

What will the Transition Back to the Workplace Look Like?

There is no short answer; it will be different for each community. As we’ve all seen, both the timeline and the severity of COVID-19 have varied by location, and so will our return to the workplace and the oft-named

‘New Normal’

Unknowns will persist – we can’t say for sure if recovery is the same as immunity.

We understand employees will find themselves in a moment of uncertainty, with more questions than answers. This stress and anxiety can take a toll on anyone.

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Gordon Watson
CEO of AXA Asia

  Peck Yeow Gan
Human Resources Director of AXA Asia

1. Your people are priority one

Times of crisis stoke fear and anxiety, but reassuring employees that you’re taking proactive steps to protect their well-being will help provide reassurance and a sense of security. Continually updating staff on new measures as they’re introduced, from deep cleaning in the workplace to travel guidance. This provides a stable base necessary for them to then be able to support customers and contribute to the wider community.

2. Connect regularly and communicate clearly

The situation changes rapidly. Each day can bring new government measures to respond to and new considerations that need to be taken into account. Keeping your crisis management team in place to digest the latest developments, especially when dealing with operations across multiple countries, with clear roles to handle follow-up actions, will be a great help. Once you’ve aligned on your approach, you can confidently communicate a consistent message through regular updates to staff.

3. A health emergency is also a mental health emergency

The current situation has upended daily routines, and everyone is juggling work and home pressures alongside concerns for the health and safety of themselves and their families. Having to process a constant stream of changes and new information can accelerate burnout, so be mindful of mental health – for example, consider setting up an Employee Assistance Program to provide a 24/7 confidential counselling hotline for those who need support.

4. The path to recovery is not a straight line

The success of effective prevention measures can make it feel as though the situation has eased, but we have already seen how the current pandemic can ebb and flow. Remind everyone of the importance of continued precautions, even as the peak passes, and continue to review your own business continuity plans to brainstorm scenarios so that you are prepared for further developments.

5. Continue to recognise diversity

Now more than ever it has been important to create an inclusive workplace culture. This drives performance, and requires us to ensure our policies put our values and principles into practice.

6. Don’t forget the good news

During these times, ensure you continue to celebrate the positive where possible. From marking someone’s birthday to sharing customer testimonials, these moments enable everyone to come together, help strengthen morale and provide some measure of normality.