Returning to the workplace? How to ease back in

After months of being told to work remotely, employers are starting to call staff back into the physical workplace. While some people welcome the return to the office, others are less excited at the prospect of leaving home to go back to their usual workplace. You may even be feeling anxious or stressed about returning to the workplace. Regardless of your perspective, there are some simple steps we can all take to help readjust to office working once more. 
Early in the year, COVID-19 restrictions saw a large percentage of the workforce quickly transition to working from home. In the months since, many people have come to appreciate the benefits of flexible working, including improved productivity, work-life balance and perceived safety. 
These professionals have become so comfortable with working from home that, according to findings in our recently released Hays Barometer Report, over half of those who are currently working remotely feel anxious about returning to the workplace. 
However, with restrictions lifting and many regions virtually eliminating COVID-19, employers are formalising plans for a safe return to the office as they look to regain some sense of ‘normality’. 

So, if your employer is starting to call staff back into the office, whether permanently or in a hybrid working arrangement, here are our tips for easing back into office working. 

Back to work strategies

  1. Assess your working style: Firstly, take some time to understand if the post-COVID-19 workplace will suit your working style. We’re unlikely to see the same level of pre-pandemic face-to-face contact at work, with in-person meetings and conversations limited due to staggered start and finish times and continuing physical distancing measures. So, if you are someone who requires in-person interactions to perform at your best, adapt your working style now so that your motivation, energy and output still remain high in today’s office environment.    
  2. Don’t judge yourself: It’s okay to feel anxious or uncertain about returning to the workplace. Or perhaps you have enjoyed the greater freedoms and work-life balance of remote working and feel sad about losing these benefits. Take note of your feelings, understand them and accept them. Once you accept how you are feeling right now, consider how you can move your mindset forward – and what changes you can implement to help prepare yourself mentally for your return to the workplace. For example, do you need to rebook children into before school care, plan your commute or find a new time for your daily walk? Or do you need to remind yourself that it’s fine to feel uncomfortable with change at first and that learning to adapt to change at work can take time?
  3. Understand your employer’s COVID safe plan: Take some time to read and understand your employer’s return to work plan. If your employer hasn’t yet shared their plan, ask about the control, physical distancing, cleaning and hygiene measures they have in place to minimise risk. Understanding and appreciating the health and safety measures your employer has gone to should help to ease any concerns about your physical safety at work. 

    If you still have any concerns, book a virtual meeting with your manager to discuss your apprehension and any additional safety measures you feel are required. Your boss will understand that everyone’s situation is different and will be on hand to answer any questions you may have. 
  4. Consider a flexible transition: Most employers are offering a slow transition back to the workplace. There is an understanding that those employees who have enjoyed working from home need to shift their mindset back into office-based working, which can take time.

    Many employers are also implementing a hybrid working model, where staff work some days in the office and others from home. For many employees, this offers the ideal transition as it provides the flexibility to balance office and home working, which allows you to slowly and steady reacclimate with the office. 
  5. Take care of your mental health: If you feel a high level of anxiety and stress at the thought of returning to the office, prioritise your mental health and wellbeing during this transition. Remember the foundations of good mental health and wellbeing at work: set a routine, switch off from work at the end of each day, sleep well, exercise, take regular breaks at work, spend some time by yourself and look out for the warning signs.

    Address any issues that are causing you to feel uneasy. For example, if you are unable to maintain appropriate physical distancing on public transport during peak times, can you talk to your boss about starting an hour earlier or later each morning?

    As always, if you are still struggling, reach out to your network, manager or a professional to talk things through or for extra support during this time. 
  6. Restore office rituals: Take a moment to consider what you have missed about office life. Perhaps, for example, you’ve missed your favourite coffee shop, meeting a friend for lunch, casual conversations with colleagues or celebrating team successes after work. Re-establishing such elements of your former office life will help you feel comfortable back in the workplace and restore a sense of normality to your working week.  
There’s no doubt that returning to your workplace after months spent working remotely can be a long and, at times, challenging transition. So, as returning to the workplace accelerates, adapting your own personal working style for the post-COVID-19 workplace, understanding your feelings, becoming informed of your employer’s COVID safe plan and prioritising your mental health are some of the strategies that can help to ease your return. 

About this author

Nick Deligiannis, Managing Director, began working at Hays in 1993 and since then he has held a variety of consulting and management roles across the business. In 2004 he was appointed to the Hays Board of Directors. He was made Managing Director of Australia and New Zealand in 2012.

Prior to joining Hays, he had a background in human resource management and marketing, and has formal qualifications in Psychology.

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