COVID-19 forced millions of people to work remotely in the blink of an eye, requiring an unprecedented amount of adaptation for both businesses and employees. And now, as some states reopen and companies gear up to welcome their teams back into the office, you might be preparing for your own return to work.
If you’re feeling slightly anxious about going back to the office after working from home for months, you’re not alone. A Zenefits survey on the transition from remote to in-office work post-Coronavirus outbreak revealed that only 39% of employees would like to return to the office. However, 69% of employers are putting an end to work-from-home policies and asking their workers to come back in person, so you might have no choice.
But that doesn’t mean you should be unprepared. In order to manage any change effectively, you need to arm yourself with a plan while also remaining flexible. Here are four ways to feel slightly less stressed out while navigating things like the return of daily commutes and face-to-face meetings, remote work rotations and pandemic-oriented safety measures.
Major companies such as Twitter and Facebook are turning remote work into a permanent thing. Some businesses are preparing their offices by rearranging workstations or requiring temperature checks before entering the premises. HR departments are putting together guidelines to help employees stay safe and healthy.
One thing is for sure: the pandemic has disrupted the way we work. But there is no one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with it, so the first step you’ll wanna take before returning to the office is informing yourself of the measures your employer is implementing to prepare for reopening. Not only will this help you know what to expect and remove any added uncertainty, but it will also give you more information so you can formulate any needs or concerns.
Be vocal: Most leaders will be ready to have open conversations about improving the environment for their teams. And, if you’re taking care of a family member or need to adjust your schedule around childcare, you might even want to inquire about what can be done in your situation. According to Zenefits, 53% of employees said they have requested or plan to request to continue remote work even after the office reopens, so you likely wouldn’t be the first one asking for flexibility in light of the changes the recent months have brought — and employers might be more inclined to accommodate.
Over-communicating with your peers is also a good idea. In order to maintain safe social distances, a lot of businesses will be asking people to work from home in rotations. “As everybody gets back into this bifurcated world, there will need to process around communication and collaboration. For example, you’ll need social tools to connect to those who come back into the office with those who are still remote,” says Andrew Hewitt, Forrester analyst and co-author of a ZDNet report on managing the return to work after lockdown.
Habits and routines
When dealing with a change of any kind, habits and routines are crucial to help you stay grounded and anchored. Just like you might have adapted to remote work by setting up a quiet workstation in your home or going for lunchtime workouts to keep your productivity high, you’ll want to play around with new habits to make your return to the office easier to deal with. For example, if you’re alternating between work-from-home and in-person days, you could decide to reserve your time at the office for brainstorms and meetings and use your time at home for deep, uninterrupted work.
But the good thing about having had to pivot to remote work so quickly is that you got to test new habits and you might even have been pleasantly surprised about the results. 63% of HR managers, small business owners, and employees agreed that productivity has remained the same or increased since transitioning to remote work, according to Zenefits. So just because you’re going back to the office doesn’t mean you can’t carry those newly discovered productivity-enhancing practices with you.
While you might be preoccupied with physical hygiene to prevent the spread of COVID-19, keep in mind that digital hygiene also matters. ZDNet reports that companies are going to be scrambling to “clean up the digital mess” left by weeks of remote working. “People have been downloading software, video games, and all sorts of stuff that you don’t really know about,” says Hewitt.
So if you’ve been using your work computer at home, be mindful as you plug it back to your company’s network — it could spread malware. If relevant, talk to your IT team to make sure your computer is safe and compliant. Dealing with the pandemic is a collective effort, and you won’t want to add to the stress of going back to work by being responsible for a company-wide security issue.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember as you handle your return to the office after working remotely for months is to practice compassion — both towards yourself and others. The adjustment might be tough. Don’t be hard on yourself if you are feeling less sharp or blue. You are still in the middle of a global crisis after all, and your mental health might take a hit from having to readjust yet again while managing normal fears and worries.
And remember that everyone is coping with the situation in different ways. Some of your coworkers might have lost loved ones, others might be worried about returning to the office and catching the virus. Compassion can go a long way.