This is a guest article written by psychologist, Dr. Julia Dabrowski, a Mental Health Specialist and Contributor to digital therapy app Companion.
As lockdown nears its end, it is likely that many working patterns will not return to how they once were, with many people, where possible, balancing a divide between home and the office. This period of transition can evoke anxious and stressful thoughts, here are some helpful tips on how to manage the change and find a “new normal” that suits you best.
- Balance the pros and cons
Remember to focus on the positives (not just the negatives) of returning to the office, in order to maintain a balanced perspective. Try listing the things you have missed the most. This could include reading time on your commute, face to face coffee breaks with colleagues, a better desk set up, fewer distractions, clearer boundaries between work and home life and home being a place purely for relaxation and leisure.
2. Reflect on what you’ve learned
Take time to reflect on what working remotely has taught you about yourself and how you work best. Are there elements you would like to hold onto or things that work well for you? Examples could include reducing travel time for some meetings and moving them permanently online or having one day working from home during the week for admin. Consider arranging a meeting to speak to your manager about whether any of these new ways of working could remain in place once you return to the office.
3. Make your return gradual
Begin to make gradual changes ahead of your return date in order to help to mentally prepare for the transition. Try setting up some face-to-face meetings with colleagues, perhaps by going for a ‘walk and talk’ or schedule an al fresco team lunch when restrictions allow. You might even be able to discuss a more formal staggered return to work with your manager.
4. Be informed of changes
Be informed of any changes you should expect. Have a conversation with your team about what changes to expect when you return to the office. Be aware and prepared for these changes so that they don’t catch you off guard on your return. Consider whether you will have to change any aspect of the way you work to account for changes made.
5. Be kind to yourself
Acknowledge that your productivity might not be at its best whilst you manage a transition. Reflect on any expectations that you may be placing on yourself and consider adjusting these for a few weeks after whilst returning back to the office.
6. Adjust your sleep pattern
For most people, going back into the office will mean earlier wake up times and adjusting suddenly to this may cause temporary sleep disruption and contribute to an increase in tiredness and stress. You can plan ahead by gradually setting your alarm clock to an earlier time each day in 5 minute increments leading up to your return to work.
7. Get back into a routine
Whilst still working from home, use the additional time gained in the morning to go for a quick walk around the block – this helps your day get off to the best possible start and can also help get you back into the routine of a daily commute.
8. Practical preparation
Take the burden off your first week back at work and plan ahead. Try planning your work wardrobe for the week and creating a meal plan which might include packed lunches for that first week back. Thinking about this in advance takes the stress out of having to organise yourself whilst you’re also adapting to all the other changes that are taking place.
9. Be mindful with colleagues
Be mindful of colleagues’ feelings and opinions about returning to the workplace. It’s been a year for many since we’ve worked in the same office together, and everyone will have had a different experience over this past year. For some, it may have been positive or neutral, for others it might have been challenging juggling additional pressures, whilst some colleagues may have gone through life changing experiences such as severe illness or loss or illness of loved ones. Be mindful of how different everyone’s experience might be and remember to remain sensitive to individual experiences.
10. Use mental health apps
Apps like Companion have digital therapy guides on coping with the impact of lockdown both during and post lifting of restrictions. Try and be open about your feelings of returning to the office and any anxiety you might be feeling about this. The more open you can be with your team, the more your colleagues can make sure to respect your boundaries.