How to prepare for a return to the office

Lydia Smith
·Writer, Yahoo Finance UK
·4-min read
Coronavirus quarantine and office work with colleagues keeping social distancing. Portrait of young man in protective mask make video call with client at table with laptops with antiseptic
Although you’re heading back to your old office, it is unlikely to look like it used to. Photo: Getty

If you’ve got mixed feelings about returning to your office, you’re not alone. On the one hand, you have missed your colleagues, the chit chat over coffee and going to the pub after work. On the other, not having to commute to work has been a dream and saved you time, stress and money.

“For some of us, this will be an exciting moment. The office gives many workers a sense of identity and camaraderie. It keeps us in a routine and the social interaction that comes with being around a team benefits our mental health,” Kelly Feehan, services director at the wellbeing charity CABA.

“But for others it can be a daunting prospect. A certain amount of anxiety might even be expected as you find out more about your employer’s approach. If this is the camp in which you find yourself, rest assured; you are not alone and there are steps that you can take to make this transition a little easier.”

Watch: Is Working From Home Bad For The Environment?

Prepare yourself for a different environment

Although you’re heading back to your old office, it is unlikely to look like it used to. “The first thing to prepare yourself for is that the environment itself is likely to have undergone a significant number of changes,” Feehan says. “For one thing, with many of us having adapted well to working from home — and some even keen to do it more often — it’s possible that we might not ever return to a situation whereby the whole team operates every day from the office.”

Additionally, social distancing measures, more space between desks, plastic separating screens and closed off communal areas will take some adjusting to. “Then, of course, there are the changes dictated by the lingering health implications of COVID-19,” she adds.

“Immediate changes may include limiting the number of people using lifts, office canteens remaining closed, banning some face-to-face meetings, distancing markers on the floor, partitions in between workstations, one-way systems, temperature screening and extra cleaning.”

Avoiding overwhelm

Beer gardens are calling and we can finally spend time alongside our friends and family, albeit outside. However, many people are finding being around other people a little strange - at least to begin with - and it’s not uncommon to feel a level of social anxiety.

According to a recent survey by the charity Anxiety UK, almost 37% of those polled said they were looking forward to returning to normal life. However, 36% of over 900 respondents said they were quite happy to stay at home and 27% had no strong feelings either way. Of those who were feeling anxious about the lifting of restrictions, 46% cited the pressures of socialising generally as their biggest concern.

“If you’ve grown used to working alone, the idea of commuting to an office, in which you’re suddenly surrounded by a large group of people, could easily be a little daunting,” says Feehan.

“Perhaps your colleagues will want to work with the radio on, while you’ve enjoyed the peace and quiet of your spare room or study. Maybe you’re struggling with losing the two hours of your day that you’d gained by not having to commute. Returning to ‘real life’ will be just as significant an adjustment as getting used to lockdown, so it’s OK to feel a little overwhelmed.”

If you are really struggling with your return to the office, it might be worth asking your employer if you can do a phased return or work from home part-time.

“If you are returning under a hybrid model, consider how you could make the most of your time at home in order to make the office feel a little more manageable,” Feehan says. “Treat these days as time to plan and to think, or even just to get your head down. Be strategic with how you divide your time, so that you can manage any growing sense of overwhelm that the office might be causing.”

It’s also important to look after yourself if you are feeling overwhelmed, by taking time out for yourself, eating well and exercising frequently. Setting boundaries around your work can help you set aside time for you.

“If you’re feeling a little apprehensive about getting back to the office, it’s important to remember that, just as we acclimatised to lockdown this time last year, this period of change will, in time, pass,” adds Feehan.

Watch: City of London expects most workers to return

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