Over the past year, many South African office workers have become used to working from home. Yet the reality is that more and more people are likely to be called back to the office full-time or some of the time as the year progresses. While some are looking forward to interaction with colleagues again, others might be less enthusiastic about getting out of their pyjamas and back into the daily commute.
Here are some tips from psychologists, HR professionals and other experts about ways that you can make this transition an easier one:
- Take it slowly, if possible
Even as waves of infection break and subside, and even when vaccine rollouts are accelerated, some people who have worked at home for a long time may be anxious about the return to work. If your manager is supportive, it might be good to ease slowly into the return to the office. For instance, you could start working from the office for two or three days a week.
- Talk to your team and boss
Communication is always important in the workplace, so voice your opinions and concerns ahead of the permanent return to the office. If you’re in a vulnerable population group—diabetic or immune-compromised, for example, be open about your fears.
As a blog post from US recruitment firm, Brilliant, puts it: “If you have a strong stance on something related to your level of comfort with returning to work, talk it out with your manager. Chances are if it’s a reasonable request, they will present your concerns to leadership. It’s best to be openly communicative and transparent so that everyone can feel safe and comfortable when they are back at work.”
- Look into mental health resources
As Dr Natasha Winkler-Titus—the president of the Society for Industrial & Organisational Psychology of SA and the founder of SigniFYE—notes there has been a spike in burnout and mental health challenges among employees during the pandemic. One factor she says stands out is the challenges employees have found in ‘switching off’.
It’s thus important even at this late stage of the pandemic to keep focusing on mental wellness. “If you can, take the time to participate in an activity that can help relieve anxiety such as exercising or taking a walk around your neighbourhood. You can also try meditation apps such as Calm, Headspace or Simple Habit to help you manage your stress,” advises a blog post on Execu-Search.
- Be patient with others
For people who have spent a year becoming accustomed to mostly working in their own space, sharing an open-plan office again may be challenging. It’s important to be mindful of the different ways colleagues may respond to the return to full-time office work. Given the tapestry of experiences people had during the pandemic, many may be wrestling with grief, anxiety or physical health problems.
This is thus a time to be kind and tolerant. “Not everyone might be overjoyed to be back in the office. It’s a good idea to reach out to colleagues before you’re due back in the office, particularly colleagues you feel you can be honest with. Building a support network inside of work can help make the transition back to the workplace easier,” writes a blogger for Gett.
- Do dry runs
It can be helpful to prepare for the change in routine that resuming full-time office work will require. Start setting your alarm a few days before if you’ll need to wake up earlier to commute, take a drive along your usual route to work, and even get used to wearing the clothes you would usually wear to the office each day.
One blogger suggests mentally imagining how you like to look, sound and feel when back at work. “Use this wellbeing exercise to make intense mental pictures going quickly from Monday to Friday in your minds’ eye addressing previous good memories; basically including in your mental picture any memory that infused you with positive emotions.”
Change is hard, but people are resilient
The pandemic has highlighted how hard change can be, yet it has illustrated how resilient and adaptable organisations and human beings can be. However your company decides to handle the future of work—going back to the office, remaining remote or a hybrid model—change is likely to be a constant part of the future. Embracing that things will be different is key to successfully shifting gears again.
[Photo by Vlada Karpovich from Pexels]