Source: Forbes Communications Council
One of my favourite TikTok trends in recent weeks has been a series of posts where content creators list their “guidelines for return to the workplace” for employers. The tongue-in-cheek clips list some of the creature comforts that employees may or may not have become used to while working remotely over the last year, such as “business casual attire will now include sweatpants” or “it will now be acceptable to have a glass of wine by my computer throughout the day.”
I don’t anticipate that many organisations will give the okay for employees to swap coffee pots for carafes of merlot or sport joggers instead of slacks as offices reopen, but the humorous series of clips does raise a very real challenge. While the product and outcomes may be the same, the experience of working at home is very different from working in an office. It’s not just about having a different monitor or a different chair. The physical energy involved and the mental approach to work is different. In some ways, it’s much easier; in some ways, it’s more difficult.
While there are many employers that have declared their intentions for ongoing remote work scenarios, many other organisations are planning to bring employees back into a shared, physical office space sometime in the coming months as the Covid-19 vaccine gains adoption and we approach herd immunity. (It is worth noting that I believe this decision should be 100% up to each organisation based on their own unique needs and working arrangements. This article is not meant to advocate for or against in-person or remote work.)
This transition is one I experienced firsthand earlier in my career on two occasions. While I was working for two different PR agencies, my employers opted to close our existing offices for several months while staff worked in a completely remote environment. (In one case, this was due to a move, and in the other, it was for a building renovation.) Transitioning back to an in-office environment was not easy, but we followed a few key strategies that helped ease the shift. I believe these tactics can also help employees and leadership weather the coming transition as we return to the office.
Talk about your re-entry plan
Organisations should conduct thoughtful outreach to employees to lay out specific expectations for how and when employees will return to the office. In addition, it will make sense to use a phased approach in many cases where some employees rejoin the physical office immediately while others — perhaps those with small children who are still unable to return to school or those who are still at risk due to the virus — wait a bit longer. In this scenario, individual employees should connect with their managers to discuss their own personal re-entry plan.
Try to ramp up rather than dive in
We’ve all experienced the different types of energy we need when we’re working in our office as opposed to working from home. The reasons for this range from the added commute time to the energy required to engage in-person and the lack of creature comforts of home. (Even if the food is the same, eating lunch on my couch is more relaxing than eating at my desk or in the staff lounge.) Just like you would with any other physical demand on your body, be prepared for a few days of adjustment. Talk with your supervisor about ramping up. Maybe you could work in-office one day per week for a couple of weeks, then two or three, and then a full week.
Start adjusting your routine even while you are at home
When kids go back to school after summer vacation, many parents start incorporating elements of the new school routine during the final weeks of the break. Wake up when classes start. Practice eating breakfast by a certain time. Ween off of extra screen time. The same applies to reentering the office. When your employer starts discussing reentry, try to consider how you will need to adjust your schedule and start incorporating those elements into your routine now. Set your alarm earlier to account for your commute. Practice meal prepping and packing a lunch instead of just hitting the fridge. If you have been enjoying a lunchtime workout, consider where your workout will fit into your day once you go back to the office. Think through the little changes that may disrupt your flow and how you can adapt to them now.
Returning to the workplace, and all of the activities that we have missed out on over the last year due to the virus, could be a fun and exciting experience. By taking a thoughtful approach, we can help reduce our own anxiety, as well as the anxiety of our team, and create a smooth re-entry.