The way we work has forever changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Offices were shuttered, and everyone except for “essential workers” was forced to work from home for months, a year, or even longer. Many of us are still working from home, while others are slowly being called back into the office as things return to “normal.”
If you’re preparing to return to work in the office — whether it be full-time or a hybrid schedule — it can feel like a huge change as we’ve all become accustomed to our daily routines of the past two years. But while change can be intimidating or uncomfortable, it’s important to remember that in-person collaboration can help drive human connections, provide inspiration, and bring back a sense of camaraderie to our professional lives that we’ve lost in our WFH setups.
Here are some tips to make the transition back to the office more smooth.
Routine, Routine, Routine
All of life’s changes can be made more manageable by finding (and sticking to) a routine. Many parts of your weekday routine will undoubtedly change as you reestablish your workdays, and that’s okay! Evaluate everything you do from the moment you wake up to the moment you log on and plan for changes. Whether you want to begin to shower at night instead of in the morning, meal prep breakfasts ahead of time to grab and go, or wait to check those emails until you get to work — be open to new changes that work for you. Then, a week or so in, your new behaviors will become routine, and you’ll have a new daily protocol that works best for you and your office life.
Do a Practice Commute
Many things could have changed since you were last in the office. Traffic patterns, congestion, train and bus routes and times — are all things you don’t want to find out on your first day back. So, do a practice commute!
Give yourself plenty of time to see how long it will take you to get to your office, so you’ll have a reasonable idea of what time you’ll need to leave each morning. This will make your mornings a bit less hectic, and you’ll be prepared to start your first day back at the office on the right foot.
Pick Out Your Clothes in Advance
If you’ve been practically living in leggings and comfy clothes, transitioning back into “work-appropriate” outfits can be rough. So be prepared. Pick out your clothes the night before so that it’s less stressful in the morning. Check your existing wardrobe to ensure everything still works for you regarding style, fit, and personal preference.
If you need a bit of an incentive or encouragement for returning to work, consider some retail therapy. Buying a new worktop, earrings, or fresh new pair of pants can boost your mood and wardrobe and give you something to look forward to for your first day back.
Reset Boundaries and Expectations
While working from home, some work/life boundaries may have been blurred. After all, your home became your office, working hours may have become a bit fuzzy, and there’s a good chance your cell phone became your work phone, too.
Now that you’ll be back in the office, you can use this time to restructure your working day and reestablish some professional boundaries. Give it a little time, but as you become more and more used to working at “work,” it will become easier to refrain from those after-hours calls and emails or too-early-to-function texts.
It also means understanding that some of the “luxuries” of working from home may need to be re-evaluated. If you grew accustomed to a mid-day run, a later start to your day, or the ability to make doctor’s appointments in the middle of the work day — talk with your manager to see if your post-Covid workplace can offer more flexibility. It’s only fair to rebalance your expectations on both sides and find that integral work and life balance.
It’s been a while since you’ve engaged in water cooler chatter or small talk with co-workers. Especially if you’re an introvert, the first few days back at the office can quickly make your social meter run out. Permit yourself to retreat to a private phone booth to recharge and remove yourself from distractions. Or, grab a coffee at a local shop to get some fresh air and a break from socializing.