How to handle return-to-work worries
January 2022   BODY & MIND

How to handle return-to-work worries

Advice on managing a return to the workplace.
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As the pandemic evolves we’ve all adapted to a new work-life balance, the world is opening up, bringing with it a return to a more traditional office environment for many. Are you ready for a return to the office or do you, along with many others, feel anxious at the prospect[1]? Here we offer some advice…

Borrow from your old routine

Going into the office was once the most reliable of routines – preparing us for the unpredictability of a working day with familiar rituals. Although the world has undoubtedly changed since then, borrowing some of our old commuting habits can help smooth the process of returning to office-based work. This might mean stopping off at the same juice bar for your morning health kick, making sure you’ve packed a trusty book to read on the train, or parking in your old spot at work. Whatever you choose, it’s important to select the habits that will get you to work in the best possible frame of mind for when you open the door on office life again.

In addition, it might be an idea to bring back to the office any wellness habits you picked up whilst working from home. That might be re-energising with a walk rather than heading for the coffee machine, or listening to a relaxing podcast at lunchtime, or just making a conscious effort not to look at a screen for the duration of your lunch break. 

Prepare thoroughly

After a long time away, returning to an office environment is a shock to the system, so remember to prepare as thoroughly as possible. One good idea is to adopt the timings you’ll be following once back in the office in the week before your return. Set your alarm earlier to account for your morning commute, and do the same for your return commute too. If you bring your own lunch into work, make sure you’re up and running with the right ingredients in the fridge. Equally, if your habit is to head to a lunch spot near your office then replicate that by nipping out for lunch in your local community. 

Knowledge is power, but it’s also confidence. So brush up on what company protocols are in place ahead of your return. Doing this will make you feel confident that your company is taking the appropriate precautions for keeping everyone safe, whilst preparing you for any new social distancing protocols. Anxiety over new rules in the office is its own very real concern for many people. Questions such as ‘how far away from colleagues do I need to sit?’ and ‘can I walk over to their desk – or should I message them beforehand?’ were rarely considered before but will be at the forefront of many people’s minds now. Speaking to your HR department ahead of your return is the best way to be prepared for a new set of office regulations. 

Structure your return 

By now, the lives of many people who have been working from home for an extended period are structured around their being present at home for most of the day. That can have a major impact on things like childcare, which can’t easily be re-arranged. If this is the case for you, it’s important not to rush back to the office five days a week. 

Have a conversation with your employer and try to structure your return around a transitional period where you work some days in the office and some days from home. 

Some of us will want to go one step further and negotiate a permanent balance between working in the office and working from home. This so-called ‘hybrid working’ can benefit everyone as plenty of companies have seen a productivity boost from employees working from home during the pandemic.[2] Broaching these conversations, however, carries its own anxiety, as the company’s policy may not align with your requests. Again, involving your HR department as early as possible in these conversations is important.

Focus on the benefits

Feeling unsettled or even unhappy when returning to the office is entirely normal. In fact, any form of change can prompt emotional discomfort, so swapping your own home for an office could make you feel anxious, even homesick[3]. Rather than allowing that feeling to grow, counteract it by focusing on the good aspects of returning to the office, such as being able to connect with colleagues face-to-face rather than over a virtual call and being able to discuss work projects in a more organic way than when working alone at home. Your commute can also be beneficial, getting you moving at the start and end of your day and contributing to any daily activity goals you have.

Returning to the office after such a long time away will probably feel like the first day of school again. But by preparing for the moment, speaking to your employer in advance and embracing the positive side of it, we can control our anxieties and make a positive start to working from work again.

 

[1] Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development - 4 in 10 people anxious about returning to the workplace as government prepares to publish guidance

[2] Daily Business Group - Workers more productive at home say employers

[3] Forbes - Back To Office Anxiety? How To Keep Your Fears In Check

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