Anyone who’s been over the Riverside Bridge in Toronto has seen the inscription over the half-bridge-half-art-installation by Eldon Garnet that says “The river that I step in is not the river that I stand in”. Constant change is the only thing that doesn’t seem to change in life – ever. And here we are now, going back to pre-Covid life and living. But, like the river that flows around you as you step into it, can things ever be the same as they were before?
Now that we are all planning to re-adjust our lives from remote work and consider going back to the office in some capacity, we are faced with a very big challenge. After over a year and a half of being isolated and stuck with the media and social media as our best friends, how do we mix back into our communities, polite company, and society again? How do we pick up on where we left off in our personal relations as well – with friends and relatives who were not in our immediate family bubble and who we have grown so accustomed to just shooting text messages to?
Some of us may be tempted to use this as an opportunity to reinvent ourselves and to trim the fat out of our lives while we chase new goals. Others might think to do the exact opposite and to hunker down and really savour being around those we missed for so long. Regardless, this is a new beginning for everyone. Including employers – who have never been here before and lack the tools and know how for navigating the complexities of returning their workforces back to being mostly in-person after so much atrophied social skills and “ring rust” to use a boxing analogy referring to boxers who haven’t been in the ring for considerable time.
What is the best way to organize ourselves around making these upcoming changes? In the beginning, working from home was a huge challenge for most of us, but through the pandemic, we all began to grow accustomed to the social distancing, the isolation, and the new routines that we were forced to adopt, and maybe even become comfortable with.
Whether the work from home was a positive experience or not, after a long 18 months, we again face the stress to re-engage in a new shift back to working in person with people that remotely we may have been okay to deal with, but who we perhaps did not relish dealing with “IRL” (in real life to use a term from my teen kids). Some of us will have access to a hybrid model, but a full-on return to in person work will become necessary for others. Just go onto LinkedIn to see the back-and-forth ping pong dialogue between advocates of remote and in-person work alike. Then there are of course the moderates who sensibly recommend a 70-30% type of split between remote and in-person work. The landscape of where the work gets done is indeed becoming deeply politicized!
We have worked with our life coaches and career counselors to determine the top 5 things that will create effective and productive habits to re-engage in this new transition return to work. If you need to work with a career coach to support you through a challenging time and help you grow in your career, we are here for you, and please feel free to reach out, email@example.com
Connect with co-workers
Our personal relationships with our colleagues are a large part of our working days. It has been challenging to maintain and develop these relationships through personal stress because of the pandemic and the physical distance that can get in the way. Before heading back into the office start to warm things back up a bit by pre-arranging coffee, lunch or walking dates with colleagues, clients, and managers. Connect over what books you’ve recently both read, which Netflix or Prime series’ you’ve both binged on, and what new personal records you’ve achieved on your exercise apps. It will be a springboard or on-ramp to smoothen your landing for when you both meet in person. Or simply talk about how you both feel about now being back to in-person work – keep it simple and be open about what is going through your mind during this transition. Chances are they will feel very similar to the way you do.
Schedule time to re-connect
Before you have to go back into the office, make time to reach out to your team and set up some time to check in with them. Depending on your work relationship, you may write a quick, friendly email, and with others, you may call them or set up a time together.
Whatever you decide to do, reconnecting and learning about your fellow workmates will help you bond with them and empathize where they are in the post-pandemic. Some employees will be ready to return to work, while others will have a high level of anxiety about it. Understanding where they are at will help you understand them in workplace social interactions.
Connecting with colleagues will also help you with processing what you have gone through. Seeing ourselves in others is helpful when we have suffered in isolation. Reflection offers the opportunity to see that we have all been impacted by the pandemic. It is also important to factor in what personal challenges your colleagues and team members might now be going through, if any, while you transition back to the office. If you feel apathy or even hesitance in the air don’t be surprised – we have all gone through some form and level of PTSD over the past while. Gradually, things will turn over and feel “normal” again with a bit of passing time. See our other posts where we talk about how the meeting point between Perseverance and Patience is actually” growth”!
You can also take this opportunity to express your own experience and challenges that you faced during the pandemic. This connection point also offers others the opportunity to see themselves in your experience.
Establish a plan for your day
Now that we will have to change and adjust our daily routine, establishing a new schedule will be very important.
Do a review of your work from home experience and note the positive changes to your life. This time, for some of us, offered us the chance to get outside and exercise every day, spend more time with young family members, or a calmer morning routine.
Once these factors have been established, prioritizing them is an important goal to establish. Working with your employer to accommodate some of these points is a great place to start. Setting up boundaries to ensure that personal time is maintained in another way will ensure that new healthy habits are maintained.
There will be moments of the day that will be a challenge to transition into, no matter how much planning goes into them. The morning commute is one of these moments: giving yourself an extra 30 minutes and preparing the night before will certainly make these moments go a lot smoother.
Create a healthy sleep schedule
During the pandemic, you may have experienced a shift in the way that you sleep, this may have been a reaction to anxiety, stress. Otherwise, it may have been the challenge of finding a work-life balance. Whatever the issue this is a great time to prioritize your sleep schedule as well as your sleep routines. Get into a routine that offers you a healthy amount of quality sleep and stick to it. This cant be stressed enough – your Covid sleep patterns will play a make-or-break role in your resilience and the “elasticity” needed for bouncing back and getting back onto your in-person saddle!
Give your wardrobe a makeover
For the past year and a half, we have become really comfortable and confident to dress in our pajamas and or a hybrid of our day and sleepwear. For some of us, we have dropped our exercise routines causing us to have a difference in weight.
Before you go back to work check in with your wardrobe and make sure that you have what you need, and if you don’t this is a great time to update your wardrobe. Feeling comfortable and confident are great tools to being successful and having the right experience when you go back to the office.
Some people will come back into the office feeling really drab and others won’t. This will be as noticeable as the high school cafeteria filled with patch works of varying dress styles and mixed energy. It is important not to underestimate the role the image of yourself will play in bouncing back resiliently.
Book time with your boss before you start
Scheduling time with your employer will offer many benefits and allow any concerns and issues to come to the surface and impact a more positive transition back to the office. It is important to be honest, and open as to what you need.
Share as much of your experience as you are comfortable with but ensure that you are clear with what you will need in your transition. Do you need a staggered start time? Prioritize time for wellness appointments? Make sure to let your manager know that you need a flexible schedule since certain life changes with elderly parents, or your kids school arrangements, may have ensued during the pandemic.
Leaders and employers want to have their teams come back from remote work to a productive and happy workplace, so this is a great time, to be honest about what you need as your manager will be receptive and willing to work with you.
Remember that your boss may have their own personal leanings and inclinations on coming back to in-person work and that they are not imposing this on you. This is market behaviour – employers want to provide great services for their clients (the ones that keep you employed!), and part of this is being there for them. Also, in some industries work culture has in fact eroded due to ghost offices and going from a thriving in person culture to a totally remote one almost overnight…
Allow yourself time when you are back to the office
Once you have gone back into the office, it is important to give yourself time to get settled in. This may take a few weeks and it may not be easy. You may hold feelings of anxiety and grieving of being at home for so long on your own.
It is important to keep in perspective that this is a transition, and you need to offer yourself self-care opportunities such as using weekends to rest and restore yourself. Take breaks from your technology when you come home in the evenings.
While you are in the office make sure to schedule yourself in breaks to step away from your computer, hydrate, and get fresh air. You may also witness your colleagues struggling with their transitions, so try to keep an empathetic perspective and keep an open line of communication with your manager.
Inform yourself of company safety guidelines
We unfortunately have all experienced seeing co-workers or people that we know have a relaxed approach about masks or vaccines. If the risk of covid 19 is a stress point, becoming educated regarding Covid 19 company policies is important.
Ensure that you ask and read all the policies that your company will be mandating and keep yourself and everyone honest. Ensure that HR and managers will be supporting employees against risk in the workplace.
If at any point you do not feel safe you must let your manager know. Speaking to your manager may be a great first step, having them understand your concerns will inform them of your experience and will be more receptive to these conversations. Managers are usually quite grateful when they know how they can advocate for you, without having to guess.