As Coronavirus lockdown restrictions lift and the world slowly steps outside, businesses are gearing up to reopen their offices. After working from home for so long, this will be a relief for many – but while returning to a well-worn routine may seem straightforward, it may actually throw up some surprising challenges.
It’s arguably be harder to adjust to the transition back to something you know than to suddenly switch to something new. Adapting overnight to home working required creativity and resourcefulness which, while stressful, conferred some reward and pride. But returning to familiar spaces and well-worn routines with PPE, screens and staggered seating may make us feel extremely misaligned. Our work environment will be familiar and alien at the same time – the challenge more about resetting old habits, feelings and behavior rather than adapting to an exciting novelty.
Returning to the office won’t be easy or even enjoyable, but there are a few things we can control to minimize our distress, demotivation and anxiety. Here are just four tips to make your post-lockdown return as smooth as possible.
1. Manage anxiety and stress
If you’re worried about returning to work, it’s important to remember that you’re certainly not in the minority. A survey by PwC found that 70% of workers didn’t feel ready to return to work, with over half citing fear of getting sick as their main concern. If this is the case for you, don’t feel you have to tough it out and feign confidence – after a global pandemic that pretty much shut our world down, going back to work almost as if nothing has changed can seem like an incredibly unsettling step. Make sure you talk to people about how you’re feeling, whether that’s your line-manager, colleagues, or an HR worker – they may well be feeling exactly the same.
Voicing your concerns is a good way to manage anxiety, and you may find it solves some of your problems instantly: e.g. if your commute is your biggest worry, your manager might suggest you work flexibly, so you can travel outside of the busy periods. If you don’t manage your anxiety, you mind find it hard to sleep, or become so stressed you don’t eat properly. Obviously, looking after our physical health is of the utmost importance right now – but prioritizing your mental health is one of the best ways to do that.
2. Deal with demotivation
While many people can’t wait to get back into the office, others will have found they prefer working from home. Getting used to earlier alarms, commutes and rigid hours again will likely cause some level of work demotivation. It’s a good idea to still be flexible with work hours (if you can) for the first week or two, just so you can get used to getting back into a routine. Scheduling your week and sketching out a few important to-dos will also help provide structure and make you feel like you’ve achieved something. Just don’t overload yourself; keep your expectations realistic or you may put too much pressure on yourself.
It’s important to remember that the post-COVID world is different to pre-COVID. Rather than just passively falling back into your old working routine, try to treat returning to the office as a chance to rewire habits, set up new processes, and apply remote learnings to craft a better way of working. Have conversations about future work schedules and set-ups early on, and be proactive about it – whether that’s asking your boss for more remote working opportunities, schedule flexibility or changes to your work hours. If you treat returning to the office as a brand new experience and opportunity in its own right, you can easily boost motivation and stay afloat easier.
3. Build up your patience, empathy and flexibility
Because the work environment you’re returning to isn’t the same as before, it’s easy to feel annoyed or frustrated. No one wants to stand apart from their work friends, have their temperature taken before going into the office, or have to wear PPE while working. As we see how things develop, protocols are likely to continue to change, and at times your office might struggle to adapt.
Try to be as patient and flexible as you can; it’s probably just as annoying for your bosses as it is for you, and the added responsibility will likely make it all the more stressful. No one really knows what they’re doing right now, or how things will adapt, so being patient, empathic and flexible can go a long way in making the transition easier for everyone.
4. Stay social
After months apart, you might find that socializing at work goes one of two ways. Some people might have missed their work friends and their old social routines so much that they’re prepared to jeopardize their health (not to mention productivity!) to make up for lost time. Other people might feel uneasy about getting too close to other people – and even remote communication may seem a bit awkward after months of separation. But encouraging social interaction is a really good way of normalizing the strange situation we find ourselves in, no matter how you do it.
While many employees made it a priority to stay connected digitally when working from home, now things are more relaxed and we’re able to see friends, much of this communication may fall by the wayside. If you created a positive remote team culture while in lockdown, try to keep going when you’re back at the office. You can make it more relevant by setting up social channels on Slack that relate to the past few months: e.g. remote working fails, things I missed about the office, etc. Keeping a sense of community and being a source of positivity is a great way to get people to feel comfortable and secure – and if you’re feeling comfortable and secure, returning to work will be infinitely easier.