At the start of the pandemic, everyone closed their offices and worked from home. Fast-forward three years later, some have gone back to the office and some remain working from home. Nowadays, between coronavirus still being somewhat on the radar in additional to all these other viruses popping up hand in hand with the comfort many have finally gained with working from home, some people have mixed feelings about going back to the office full or even part-time. On the other hand, some people prefer to collaborate with coworkers in person and will trade in their kitchen table home office for a dedicated workspace. Those looking forward to returning to the workplace, though, appear to be the minority. According to a survey of 1,000 full- and part-time workers, over two-thirds are concerned about the transition. As many as 29% enjoy the flexibility and security of remote work so strongly that many expressed feeling uncomfortable if they must physically be at work. People’s lives were radically changed by the pandemic and many people are experiencing anxiety and stress about returning to work. How can such anxiety be alleviated and managed?
Working from home allowed people to continue earning a living while avoiding exposure to the virus. Many employees are concerned that if they are compelled to commute by public transportation and spend 9:00 to 5:00 in close quarters with coworkers again, they may be at risk of catching one of the many things we hear are floating around – for many of us for the first times in our lives – or simply have become too comfortable at home. Here are five common reasons people have about returning back to the office full-time:
- I’m worried about returning to a germ-filled environment: The common main issue is that not everyone wears their masks in the same manner; some cover their lips and nose, some only cover their mouth, some pull their mask all the way down when speaking, and not everyone cleans the doorknobs and tables after they’ve touched them. This can be solved by ensuring and maintaining the highest level of sanitization. Companies can have a team dedicated to disinfect and sanitize all surfaces after the day is done so that employees can come in the next day feeling safe and at ease. Help them understand that the company cares about their health and is taking the right safety measures to protect them. I think it’s safe to say we all have a new relationship in terms of how we think of germs, post the latest pandemic.
- I like work from home and can just as easily get my job done remotely: People have greatly adapted to working from home. Although it was difficult at first, but what seems difficult now is returning back to the office after having adjusted to a workspace at home and adapted to the flexibility and freedom you have – something even as simple as wearing your pajama pants while working. On a bigger scale, some have bought monitors and noise-cancellation earphones and figured out ways to make their work from home experience as professional and efficient as their prior offices.
- It’s a big transition: Transitions usually tend to spike anxiety for most people, especially when it’s a life-threatening matter. Although you may be returning to your old job, a lot has changed, and some people are just experiencing the same level of adjustment stress as they did when they transitioned to work from home, making them loathe the idea of having to go through yet another huge transition. Supervisors are likewise concerned about their employees’ mental wellbeing. It is indeed a shared responsibility and one thing that can be done from the employer’s end is to ensure that their team hosts one-on-one meetings to check on employee well-being and determine how leadership and management teams can assist with easing their transition back to work.
- Social relationships and boundaries have changed: Pre-pandemic, it’s highly unlikely you knew much about your coworkers’ health decisions. Now, you’d probably want to know who in your office is vaccinated and who isn’t. Being in close physical contact with people pre-pandemic was a pretty normal thing. Now, people have formed different opinions and practices in terms of their interactions with people – this also may somewhat be connected to their personal experience with the pandemic. This makes it difficult to experience synchroneity within work environments. Boundaries have definitely changed and that is why it might be a concern for some, because you won’t know what each co-worker’s new normal is and how to deal with each one individually. However, for some, the return of work routine and seeing colleagues again can be very healing. It brings back the feeling of living a “normal” life and moving past the restrictions and constant fear of the unknown. It’ll be far easier to navigate all of this and help those who are worried if you know how people on your team feel. If you’re a manager or a supervisor, maybe suggest an sectioned workspace for those who still feel uncomfortable being around a lot of people all at once.
- I’m not as productive at the office as I am working from home: Things have truly flipped from when everyone was forced to retreat to their home! Maybe work from home it is not as suffocating as it was when it was forced upon us since we are able to do a number of things outside the house in comparison to when the virus first invaded our lives. Working from home was an enormous experiment. You may have learned a lot about what helps and hinders your productivity, as well as what makes you happy. Some people mingle a lot and face many distractions and interruptions at the office, while discovering that they are more focused and driven when working from home as they don’t have as many distractions to sway them from working uninterruptedly. Good habits that felt strong and well-established when you worked from home (such as lunchtime walks or healthy lunches) can become quite impacted when going back to the office. You’ll need to restructure these habits from scratch, as if they’re brand new to you. From an employer’s perspective, try to encourage and motivate them about the return. Share with them the positives and if possible, give people the flexibility at the beginning to have a 50-50 or 70-30 work from home balance, until they find a way to function as productively as they did at home. A hybrid option could make the world of a difference!
Why do you think people are feeling anxious about going back to work?
Fear. Anxiety is caused by worry about the future and the unknown. We have been living in very uncertain times, so it is only natural to be concerned about yet another shift. People are recovering from a pandemic in which the virus not only caused illness but also killed a large number of people. Right now, safety of themselves and their loved ones’ is not something as predictable nor stable as some may have felt pre-pandemic. This, combined with the fact that not everyone has decided to get vaccinated, means that immunity may not be obtained anytime soon, adding to the uncertainty and unpredictability of the virus’s impact on people’s lives. As a result, people must deal with this aspect, which adds to their uneasiness.
What are some tips to ease your way back to the office?
- Focus on the positives of going back to work: When someone has to do something that makes them nervous, knowing there’s a solid cause behind it can help. If your company’s senior management haven’t clearly explained why it’s necessary for employees to return to work, you may need to fill that void. Upper management should communicate the vision so that employees see it as realistic and can get on board, if they don’t buy in, it will feel like coercion. Try explaining things like how human communication and connection hinders creativity and may alleviate depressive thoughts and anxiety. Maybe bring to their attention that having a routine can bring balance and a sense of community and excitement to their daily lives- with the flexibility to take regular mental breaks whenever needed.
- Start connecting with individuals first more frequently before moving onto in-person interactions: You may not be eager to commute to the office again, but there is likely someone at the office you enjoy chatting with. Begin by connecting with individuals or small groups of people before progressing to interactions with a complete team. Restart creating your support network at work, focusing on spending time with employees who are helpful and get along well with you.
- Have a plan on what approach feels safe to you and communicate it with your employer first: Consider what works best for your productivity and mental health and share your feelings with your employer and coworkers. A number of employers are also showing flexibility to ensure their teams are comfortable. People have different levels of acceptable contact, and it might be beneficial to reduce anxiety to address this issue beforehand and decide how much or how little contact you want when going back.
- Practice self-care: Practicing self-carecan help you cope with the stress of change. Try following a healthy routine with timely meals, consistent sleep timings, adequate physical activity, and relaxation time. Set aside breaks at work at regular intervals to destress yourself during work hours. Another thing is to be mindful of warning signs of stress, such as shortness of breath, headaches, heaviness in your chest to know when to stop and reconsider what you’re doing or how you’re working that’s causing that.
- Take your time going back to work slowly: If you’re vaccinated and accepting of returning to the office, try finding middle ground with your manager about phasing back into the office gradually to reduce the amount of pressure and stress of going back full force instantly. Indeed, employers are also aware of how stressful it may be and that is why it is a two-way street, where both the employee and the employer must show patience and kindness during this process and involve one another to react the best possible scenario. If it seems daunting at first, talk to your managers and ask to keep a ratio of working from the office and working from home. This might be a good way to ease the anxiety of being back full-time permanently. It has been a very rough time for the entire world. Some have suffered pain of losing a loved one or family member, and others have suffered the actual toll the virus had on the physical body. We all endured this pandemic together and it’s important to remember that everyone went through a lot, so the best thing to do is to just share some compassion with one another to help make this transition a better one.
- Establish a new routine: You’ve undoubtedly mastered the art of getting on Zoom at the last minute if you work from home. A morning routine may seem like a distant memory to you.
Consider how you may connect your existing routine to the one you require. Determine what time you need to wake up and what assistance you may require at home. Begin thinking about incorporating small portions of the routine into your present schedule so you can jump up to what you’ll need to do. Rekindle old habits. Allow yourself time to prepare meals if you need to carry lunch to work, perhaps.
Despite the challenges of transitioning our living environment into a working area, we’ve grown accustomed to the convenience of working from home, and surveys show that employees are anxious about returning to the office. The first and most important thing to begin with to overcome this, is to acknowledge the stress you’re feeling. It’s OK not to feel 100% fine about going back in. Dwelling on what makes you anxious will only make it worse but acknowledging your emotions as legitimate and working towards finding solutions to navigate through them, is a positive step in mastering your emotions. People have discovered and learned a lot about themselves since the pandemic – some at speed that seem far expedited than natural. Some questions worth asking yourself are: What did you discover about the social rhythms that promote your productivity? Did you come up with any new methods for getting deep work done? How did you handle interruptions? Did you establish more effective communication methods? What did you miss about actually seeing your coworkers?