It was quite the adjustment when we had to shift to working from home, pretty much overnight. Over a year later, we’re so used to remote working that we now face a new challenge: How are we going to adapt back to life at the office? OpenUp Psychologist Soesja Vogels is here to give us some tips.
Now that we’ve found our groove with remote working, it’s time to shift gears again: More and more of us are heading back to the office. This presents a new range of challenges.
How Much More Time Are We Going to Be Spending with Each Other?
We may need to communicate with colleagues and managers to establish what we need and what’s appropriate. How often will we get to work from home? How much time do we need to spend in the office? When is it essential to communicate face-to-face and when is virtual communication acceptable? We’ll also have to come to agreements about workplace hygiene and social distancing.
You need to start with some self-reflection here: What are your needs and wishes? Only once you’ve clearly figured this out for yourself can you begin to consult and coordinate with other people. Everybody has their own perspectives and feelings about going back to the office – communication is key here. It’s about making sure that everyone feels comfortable at work. Employers are going to play a major role in this.
Returning to the Office Is Going to Take Some Getting Used to
Most people don’t really like change. Over the past year, we’ve all experienced significant changes and, just as we’ve started to find a bit of rhythm and structure, everything is changing again. It’s a lot to get used to – for everyone.
You may have to adapt back to being surrounded by the bustle and distractions of an office after you’ve grown used to a quiet, colleague-free environment in your home. Or, it might be the opposite way around, depending on your home situation. We now have to start thinking about commute times and traffic jams again – something that consumes a lot of time and energy. Getting used to a new environment can also drain your energy. And, of course, there are those people who are totally fine with working from home and would actually prefer to keep things that way.
We’re Good at Adapting
“As humans, we’re all very flexible and adaptable,” explains OpenUp Psychologist Soesja. “We’ve started going for walks, making Zoom calls and setting up group chats to stay in touch with our colleagues. We’ve moved a lot of our social events online. We’ve tried to safeguard those work/home boundaries by intentionally separating off our workspace and closing it at the end of the day, making sure to go outside at regular intervals. We’ve found a completely new way of working, although some have found it easier than others.”
For many working parents with school-aged children, it was a real struggle when they lost that social contact with their colleagues. Soesja also saw this at the practice: “When everyone in the same household is trying to juggle their own work and private struggles, it’s really challenging.” The important thing, though, is that we did it. We’ve seen how adaptable we are as human beings. And if we’ve managed something once, then we can always do it again.
Do We Really Want to Go Back?
But just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we want to. In the same way we can get used to anything, we’ve got used to working from home. We’ve accepted the situation, worked around problems, and found solutions so that we can carry on as best we can. After over a year of remote working, most people have found a way to make it work. Soesja: “This means that going back to the office might be met with some resistance. Working from home has certain benefits. It makes sense if you start asking yourself the question: “Do I really want to go back?”.
But just as we had to adapt to a new situation over a year ago, we’ll now have to go through that same process again. We’ll soon start getting used to another “new normal”. However, there are certain things you can do to give yourself a helping hand and make things easier.
A Smooth Return to the Office
Obviously, it’s great news that the world is opening up again, but it does mean another shift in gears. What’s the best way to cope with this? Soesja is going to share four tips.
1. Keep checking in with yourself
“Take a moment to consciously reflect and list the things that you liked and disliked about the past year. Have you developed any new habits that make you happy, such as taking a daily walk or checking in with your colleagues? Keep these going: Figure out how to work them into your new routine so that you don’t forget to do them.
Also, identify the things you really won’t miss, such as having a full day of video meetings without any face-to-face contact. It’s about consciously listening to your needs and working out how to retain your good habits. As you’re doing this, identify what gives you energy and what takes it away. With society opening back up, you’ll see the return of certain pressures. You’re allowed to do more things now, but to what extent do you actually want to do them? Keep checking in with yourself about this.
Just so you know, this doesn’t need to be something heavy or complicated. For example, you could use a traffic light system to see how you’re doing: Green = (really) great, orange = not so good, red = not good at all. Have you noticed any periods where your traffic light is red for several days in a row? And when is it green? What do you need? And what could you do without?”
2. Communicate what you need and what you’re finding tough
We’re all different and everybody is going to have slightly different experiences and needs when it comes to returning to the office. Communicate honestly at work about your personal challenges, feelings, and needs. This will allow your employer to better respond to them.
Are you finding it hard to imagine working from the office five days a week? Are you worried you won’t be able to maintain your work/life balance? Are you dreading that long commute? Do you want to know exactly what is compulsory and what is optional? What’s your preferred way of organizing your day?
Now is the moment to be honest about these things because new systems and practices are being established. And it’s natural for everybody to have different wants and ideas. The earlier and more transparently you communicate yours, the easier it will be for your employer to take them into consideration. Clear is kind.”
3. Seek connection
“Everyone experienced last year differently and faced slightly different challenges. Maybe one of your colleagues struggled to find calm in a busy home while another felt lonely. It’s possible somebody you work with has been seriously ill or experienced the death of a loved one.
It’s been an intense year in many ways, so open yourself up and listen to people when they share their stories. This will help you to understand each other better. After all, don’t you want to know why one of your colleagues now feels uncomfortable eating lunch in a large group? Or what it is that makes them prefer working from home over being in the office every day?
When there’s more understanding and tolerance, you increase your chance of connecting with somebody. And that’s something we all desperately need after last year.”
4. Learn from the past
“If there’s one thing the Covid-19 pandemic has shown us, it’s that we’re all more adaptable than we think. Last year, we abruptly shifted from working in offices to working from home – it was a huge change. Yet we collectively managed to make this adjustment, and we can do it again.
Think back to how you coped the first time. What worked for you back then and what really didn’t? What did you dread? And what turned out not to be so bad after all? What do you need right now as you work to smoothly navigate this transition? You don’t have to reinvent the wheel or anything, just look back on the lessons you’ve learned and the insights you’ve gained. Try to figure out the best way to apply these things right now. We’re going to get through this together!”
Do you want to learn how to better cope with the change of going back to work? Book here a consultation with one of our OpenUp psychologists.