Feeling the dread of navigating the transition back to the office after two years of remote work? You’re not alone. A recent survey from Harvard Business School revealed that 4 out of 5 people either don’t want to come back at all or would prefer a hybrid work schedule (1).
These feelings are totally normal. We’ve drastically altered our work norms over the past 24 months, and now we’re expected to do it again. In fact, this transition was said to be ten times more challenging than the first time around (2). The question is, how exactly do we make this process more bearable so that we maintain both our sanity and our performance?
What Exactly About the Return-To-Office That’s Stressing You Out?
Each of us has a unique work-life situation, and we’ve all experienced a diverse set of challenges. But oftentimes, our return-to-office worries boil down to three aspects. And identifying which one causes the most stress will help you better address your needs.
The social aspects of going back to an enclosed office rev up the anxieties of many. Most of us dread office politics and small talks. Perhaps you’re re-entering the office after undergoing a huge life change such as having a child or dealing with illness. These concerns often make it awkward and difficult when interact with our coworkers in person.
It’s a no-brainer that life after COVID-19 is one with heightened safety and health scares. Especially for those who go home to vulnerable family members like an older parent or a baby. We’re likely to constantly be on our toes about whether or not people are infected, or vaccinated, and what procedures will be in place when spikes occur.
Many people feel like they work better from home. There are fewer distractions, and it's easier to incorporate family time and other healthy habits like exercise. Concerns will definitely arise regarding how to preserve the positive things established while working from home. This is especially because commuting to work will mean we need to sacrifice portions of our routine.
Five Tips for a Smoother Return to the Office
Remote work has turned us into professionals at commuting from bed-to-Zoom, hosting meetings in pajama pants, and feeding the kids while replying to emails. But our return to offices will make these “skills” redundant soon. And most of us don’t want to return to whatever normal looked like pre-pandemic. So how can we ace this transition and kick back-to-office anxiety in the butt?
1) Show compassion
The shift to remote work, combined with the uncertainty of the future, was psychologically jarring for most of us. That’s because these events brought upon a loss of freedom, autonomy, and connection. And many fell into overworking patterns to cope with the loss.
That’s why we need to show compassion for ourselves and our fellow colleagues, and to acknowledge each other’s hardships. This nurtures shared humanity, making the office a warmer space for us to return to.
2) Seek and establish clarity
Once you’ve identified what aspects of your return-to-office that’s stressing you out, it’s easier to enforce clear boundaries within your workplace. Your managers can also better attend to specific requests when they are clear about what your needs are. Especially if that requires some kind of change or exception to workplace policies.
For example, if you’re worried about health and safety, articulate clearly that you’d prefer to keep masks on or practice social distancing. If you’re feeling socially anxious or going through a tough time, reiterate that you’re not ready to talk about what happened during the pandemic.
3) Connect with colleagues you trust
Spending your first days back in the office around those you’re familiar with will be less stressful than talking with a colleague you don’t know well.
Make plans to have lunch, or check in with each other every few hours. Research has found that these soft interactions bolster positive emotions and keep burnout at bay (3).
4) Set realistic schedules
Remote work granted us the flexibility to sleep in, exercise more, and cook healthier meals. But these will all be revised when the dreaded commute comes back into the picture.
Be realistic and be ready to compromise. It helps to list down no more than three essential tasks to complete and schedule them into your calendar. Then, think about how you’re going to rise earlier and get ready. Are you going to shorten or move your workout? Will you prep your meals during the weekend? Will you take turns with your spouse to drop the kids off?
5) Find your safe space
The best thing about remote work was that you’re always in the comfort of your own space. You likely also installed new items in your home office that made it more work-friendly and cozy.
As we’re transitioning away from that familiar sense of comfort, try establishing parts of that in your office as well. You could up your workstation with a cushion or plant. Or find a set corner in your office lounge where you can unwind. Finding a safe space where you can temporarily escape from the bustle keeps you from feeling overloaded.
While business expectations may stay the same, both employees and leaders need to acknowledge that working at home is very different from working in an office. The physical and mental energy involved in the transition itself will be a significant challenge for us all. By coming from a thoughtful approach, we can ease our collective anxiety, and create a pleasant return.
Read other Mental Wellness Resources:
- You Deserve That Break: Why Holidays Are Beneficial To Your Career
- How To Make A Change In Your Life
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