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How to make it easier to go back to the office after working from home during COVID-19 lockdowns

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Office life has its own set of perks and challenges. The perks — seeing your favorite coworkers, scoring free treats in the kitchen and just having a place where you can focus on your job-related responsibilities. The challenges nowadays seem to deal more with readjusting to working away from home, sanitizing, worrying about your own health or following your company’s health guidelines.

When traditional working from offices was taken away from us last year, some were fine with the change and others had a rough time adjusting. But as the pandemic raged on, one thing became clear: despite the craziness swirling around us, our homes were the place that we strongly got used to.

Returning to the office after the COVID-19 lockdowns could be stressful. From safety measures and vaccines to a hybrid workforce, COVID-19 is forcing employers and employees alike to adjust.

“Just changing your routine involves some amount of cognitive effort. I was so comfortable just getting up from bed and going over to my computer, setting it on and having a bath whenever I wanted, not having to dress up, not having to iron my clothes, and not having to worry about commuting.”, says Ravi Gajendran Chair of the Department of Global Leadership and Management at Florida International University, who taught his classes remotely for months.

Now that restrictions have started lifting in most countries around the world, employers are asking employees to return to the office, even if only for part of the week under “hybrid work” models. But those looking forward to returning to the office seem to be in the minority. Around two-thirds of workers say they’re worried about the transition, according to a survey of 1,000 full- and part-time workers conducted by Envoy in mid-February.1 As many as 29% of them value the flexibility and safety of remote work so much that they say they’ll quit their jobs if their employers insist they come back to the office.

If you have a return to work date looming over your head, you might be struggling with the thought of having to leave the comfort of home to go work in an environment that’s filled with so many uncertainties. Let’s take a closer look at ways to make the transition easier.

Easing the Transition Back to the Office

Whether you’re returning to the office full time or just a few days per week, the disruption to your daily routine can feel daunting. All of a sudden, you’ll be interacting with far more people than usual, and you’ll probably need to adjust your schedule to accommodate your commute. How can you lessen the stress that comes with this change in your work? 

Start by focusing on the positives that can come with going back to the office. It is definitely hard to give up the flexibility and ease of working from home, however, there are several advantages of resuming work in an office that the home environment lacks. 

The benefits may include rebuilding social connections and curbing the loneliness many experienced during lockdown, possibly fewer distractions that may have reduced your productivity, and a firmer boundary between your work and home life. 

“From a career perspective, it will show your commitment to your work and your flexibility to go through another transition, which will be appreciated by your job,” says Yasmine Saad, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist and founder and chief executive officer of Madison Park Psychological Services. 

Start mentally preparing for the return to work

Start by envisioning scenarios that you might encounter at work to help you feel more at ease. Imagery is powerful in helping people to cope with anxiety-filled situations. When you do this, it’ll help you gear up emotionally. 

Don’t jump right in. Put your toe in the water. Go back to your office before your official start date if you can do so. Look around. Sit in your chair. Remember that a lot has changed in a year, so expect that things are not going to look or feel like they did a year ago. 

Tidy up 

And while you’re there, you might as well spruce up your workspace. 

If your office has been vacant for a year, your workspace may need some refreshing or cleaning. When you do your dry run, take some cleaning products with you and spend some time getting your space ready. Add some new pictures and make it look nice and pleasant. A pleasing, clean and organized environment is good for your mental health. Being in one can also help reduce your stress level, particularly your cortisol hormone level (the stress hormone). 

Felling socially anxious is ok!

It’s totally normal to feel some social anxiety when thinking about going back to the office and interacting with a group of co-workers. Taking a gradual approach to socializing can help ease the transition. 

Start connecting with individuals or smaller groups of people first before moving on to interactions with an entire team. Start building your support network at work again and specifically prioritize spending time with coworkers who are supportive and get along well with you. Offer to have a socially distanced meeting in person outside of work or a casual coffee break while working to connect with them. 

Keep in mind that the safety precautions of the pandemic upended social norms, like shaking hands. Figuring out what feels comfortable to you now and developing a plan to respect your personal boundaries can help you feel safer. 

Concerned about your health and safety at work? Communicate it.

If you are an employee, be sure to spell out what your expectations are and ask for your employer’s COVID-19 safety policy. Be sure to thoroughly read the policy. Your employer must follow the established safety protocols. If they don’t, you can point to the document and say, ‘Here it specifies that cleaning will take place,’ and ask any question you may have. Keep in mind that you don’t want to be combative when you have this conversation. Just make it clear that safety on the job is very important to you. Your safety is key and you don’t have to apologize for that. 

You don’t have to feel helpless if leadership is careless about COVID-19 safety protocols. Instead, we recommend taking safety into your own hands. Even if it is not a policy, keep wearing your mask and have hand sanitizer at your desk to protect yourself. 

And make it clear that you’re still practicing physical distancing. It’s OK to continue to add space and distance. However, it’s important to practice what you’ll say if someone steps into your space before it happens. Remember how you say it is just as important as what you say. People genuinely may not realize they are stepping into your space. A gentle reminder can help. You can do this by saying, ‘I’m still social distancing,’ and take a step back. You can also create physical distance with your body language and objects. Stand behind your desk, move your chair farther away or reorganize your environment to give you more space. 

If you are an employer, communicate with your team as much as possible. Let them know, what the safety protocols are, offer themselves time to chat, ask them if there is anything they are concerned about. Depending on the size of your team, you may want to have an informative call with them or you can send them an email.  

What can you do if you’re not allowed to return to work gradually?

Many employers have put hybrid work models in place. Others are letting employees decide if they want to work from home for good or come in from time to time. Some people aren’t so fortunate. They have to work on-site and there’s no flexibility. In cases like these, Dr. Albers, PHD at the university of Maryland says to find the positives where you can. 

“Remember the upside and be honest with yourself about how you are feeling. Take inventory of what you are struggling with. Is it leaving your kids, feeling safe or having a schedule again?  Deep down, figure out what is at the heart of your concerns. Then, think about what you have learned from working from home and figure out what you want to continue to do outside of work once you return. It might be spending more quality time with your family or getting outside regularly. Also, think about the space you’ll regain by not working at home. For example, your dining room table won’t be covered with work papers anymore or your guest room can be a guest room again instead of an office.”  

If you are an employer, have the above in mind, put yourself in shoes of your team and make it as easy and as comfortable as possible for them to get back to the office. Allow them time to readjust.  

Practicing Self-Care Amid Change is important - No matter if you are an employee or an employer!

Even as you work to make the transition easier, returning to the office may feel overwhelming at times. Practicing self-care can help you cope with the stress of change. 

Follow a healthy routine with timely meals, consistent sleep timings, adequate physical activity, and relaxation time. Set aside breaks at work at regular intervals to destress and rejuvenate yourself during work hours. 

Be mindful of warning signs of stress, such as shortness of breath, headaches, heaviness in your chest, raised heart rate, and general body aches, and take steps to address it in real time. 


If you’re struggling to readjust or you need help setting up a healthy routine for yourself, our programs will help you become conscious, strong and emotionally balanced to build resilience in stressful times to build the life you want. Click here to learn more! 

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