Let me assure you that you’re not the only one who feels nervous about going back to the office after a year. After months of remote work and only seeing coworkers on screens, it can be quite challenging to meet in person. Suddenly, they might seem strangers to you. It might be a little scary to get back to work even if you know the workplace well. Our glass towers are surprisingly hard to reenter. Here’s how you can make it easier.
Transitions are natural anxiety-inducers.
Much of human psychology has evolutionary roots. Predictable and familiar situations tend to make us feel safer. The unknown makes us more alert, and we are always looking out for dangers that might come up. As a result, we are more anxious. Despite being adaptive, this reaction can be quite exhausting.
You probably remember how it felt to start a new job. This is a challenging time when people need to learn new skills and procedures and adjust to a new culture. Your old job may seem familiar to you, but many things have changed, so you may find it beneficial to expect the exact adjustment of stress. Here are some tips for being kind to yourself.
Returning to a situation that you avoided causes anxiety.
Imagine a gymnast who hasn’t trained since last June. It was not their intention to procrastinate or avoid training. An injury forced them to sit out. Nevertheless, when they return, they are likely to feel a lot of anxiety about performing moves they were used to.
Anxiety works the same way across the board. No matter if the break was externally imposed or not, we feel anxious every time we avoid something. Even if you’re used to being separated from your child during the day, a parent might feel anxious about being separated from their child during the day. Alternatively, you might feel uneasy about making small talk at work or dealing with others’ personalities.
Is there a solution? When you gradually resume your previous activities, your anxiety will naturally subside, just as it did for the gymnast.
Boundaries and relationships between people have changed.
You probably did not know much about the health decisions of your coworkers before the pandemic began. You probably want to know who in your office is vaccinated and who isn’t. It is likely that your colleagues were unaware of your home or your children prior to the pandemic, but now they are, thanks to Zoom meetings.
People will probably become more influential as they return to the office. Depending on how closely they follow Covid precautions and how vigilantly they do so, they’ll create office culture and norms. Other people may be ostracized. Someone who chooses not to vaccinate and who continues to wear a mask while everyone else is taking theirs off. During this shakedown, the pecking order and popularity contest within the office might become even more apparent. When “cool” coworkers wear no masks, go out for lunch, and act precisely the same as before, but “picky” coworkers still wear masks and eat lunch at their desks, that might mean the “picky” workers are still acting the same.
Some people may be looking forward to getting back to work and find that it increases their productivity, while others may have the opposite reaction. The circumstances and nature of each person are different, so their perspective won’t be the same as yours. When a leader or co-worker shouts from the rooftops that we need to get back to work to regain productivity and camaraderie, they are probably generalizing based on their own experience and perspective.
The answer to all this is tolerance, acceptance, and refraining from gossip.
The best parts of office life and WFH should be retained.
It was a natural experiment to work from home. Surely you’ve learned a lot about what can help and hurt your productivity and what can make you happy. There will be some practical insights as well, like how you learned you really did need the two huge monitors you had in your office. Maybe you found that taking more walks, or eating a better lunch at home, was helpful for your mental health.
You may have also gained insights into yourself through social interactions. In what ways did you learn how to create social rhythms that can support your productivity? Did you develop new strategies for completing deep work? How did you handle interruptions differently? How did you improve your communication skills? Was there anything you missed about seeing your coworkers in person? Do you miss going to conventions and traveling on business?
The environment has a profound effect on our behaviors and habits. It will take some thought to establish habits and advantages that you want to carry over when you return to the office after changing environments. You will have to form those habits consciously in your new (but still old) office environment. If you don’t do this, you will quickly go back to doing everything the way you did before.
The habits that felt firm and well-established when working from home (such as healthy lunches and lunch walks) will be fragile once you are back at work. It will be almost like starting from scratch with these habits. You can’t establish habits without consistent cues, and the cues you used to have at home are unlikely to be present, at least not in the same way.
It doesn’t mean you’re fragile or incapable of coping if you’re anxious about going back to work. Our anxiety is triggered by these kinds of transitions for several reasons. Take the time to read the tips mentioned here to better understand your colleagues’ perspectives and how they may be navigating the transition back as well.
Be kind to yourself. Treat this transition as gracefully and compassionately as you start a new job or set out on another new adventure.