16 August, 2021

Preparing for Return to the Office

Male Computer

If you’re not back at the office yet, a return could be on the horizon. It’s likely been a while, so there are a few things you can do to help prepare.

Going back to the office after many months of working from home is an adjustment, as there are new protocols and evolving guidelines. There’s a new level of uncertainty around heading back to the office and how this situation will unfold. Many offices are planning to welcome back their employees, although some workplaces are adopting a hybrid model where flexible arrangements may include working from home full time or creating a schedule where employees split their time between remote work and office time.

A hybrid model may also involve scheduling office time by “cohort,” which means designating employees to smaller groups that should benefit from being together in the office for meetings and other cross-functional work. As well, the cohort approach may keep employees sufficiently spread out to promote better health and safety.

For many people, going back to the office poses mixed emotions and may be stressful as they try to manage their daily lives and resume their routines. Here are five tips to help you successfully prepare for office life.

1. Establish your sleep routine. Working from home has often meant starting and finishing at various times, depending on the needs of the day. As a result, you may also be going to bed at different times. Once back to a regular office schedule, you’ll need more consistency in your sleep routine. A week or two before your scheduled return to the office, try getting back in the habit of sleeping and waking at a set time. Also consider scheduling other aspects of your usual routine (showering, breakfast, personal grooming, etc.). Practicing these routines will help condition you to a given schedule, allowing for a smoother transition when you return to the office.

2. Map out your commute. A benefit of remote work is avoiding the daily roundtrip commute, which can save time, money and the hassle of driving or riding public transit. Commuting may also put you into close proximity of others, which could be unsettling as virus variants linger. You might adjust your commuting routine to reflect today’s circumstances. Review schedules and various protocols for public transportation, and understand if capacity limits may impact your commute times. If you have flexible work hours, consider commuting at off-peak times. Whatever your decisions, remember to include adequate time in your schedule for commuting.

3. Streamline routines. Returning to the office not only changes your work schedule, but also impacts your household routines, like walking the dog, childcare arrangements and your sleep schedule. Managing childcare can more complex as the pandemic has impacted school systems, resulting in a greater reliance on virtual learning as part of a hybrid model. More careful planning will be required to manage hybrid models for work as well as childcare and household routines. Additionally, some employers may offer parents flexibility in work hours to support their childcare needs. Arrangements may include shifting hours so parents come to the office early or late, giving them more time to spend with their children.

4. Revitalize your workspace. The office may be clean and sanitized when you return, but you can do other things to feel comfortable again. Now’s your chance for a fresh start by reducing clutter and getting better organized. If you’re assigned a dedicated work area, you may also want to update its “look” by placing more recent photos of your loved ones, or adding personal items with splashes of colour to make your workspace more inviting. If you’re allowed into the office before the official start date, consider sitting at your desk to refamiliarize yourself with the environment and to gain a sense of how you could refresh your work area.

5. Reach out for support. If the thought of returning to the office has you anxious and stressed, consult a counsellor or mental health professional. Many companies arrange for such support services, so their employees can receive guidance and support to help overcome the issues they’re facing. The uncertainty of the situation may also be unnerving, so get as many details as possible from your employer regarding their back-to-office plans. Knowing how things will unfold may help you visualize your return and mentally prepare for it. Going back to the office may seem overwhelming, but remember the workplace benefits of regular social interaction and potentially increased productivity. It’s only a matter of time before you settle back into your work-related routines, so be patient and kind to yourself.