Heading Back into the Office

By Loren Smalley, Career Coach at Jewish Community Services, an agency of The Associated 

As the pandemic gets more and more under control, employers are beginning to discuss what the return to a physical workplace might look like, how to use what was learned about work processes and employee engagement over the past year moving forward, and how to best transition their employees back to an in-person environment.  

Employees, however, are feeling anxious and uncertain about returning to an office and getting “back to normal,” citing significant concerns about safety, hygiene, long commutes, caretaking responsibilities and more. 

For most, the embracing of remote work due to physical distancing rules has eliminated commutes, freed up more time for family and self-care, and improved work-life balance overall. It has allowed for more schedule flexibility and resulted in higher productivity rates as people learned how to make better use of their time. 

On the flip side, while many have enjoyed working from home – becoming more proficient in their work and gaining new skills – there are many others who have experienced dissatisfaction and unhappiness. The forced remote work has led to isolation, a surge of mental health issues, and an overwhelming number of responsibilities all occurring in the same space at the same time (home = work; work = home).  

In addition, there are many that continue to find themselves extremely challenged by technology and connection with colleagues. This stress and anxiety can cause forgetfulness, inconsistency, lack of judgement, fatigue, health issues and decreased productivity. 

As companies start to develop a plan for reopening, many are choosing to give up their expensive real estate and long commutes for employees for a more viable, efficient, sustainable and financially beneficial work model. Freeing up more funds to allocate to their staff’s compensation, learning and development opportunities. At the same time, employees are wondering how companies will make things comfortable and enjoyable for employees while maintaining productivity. 

For those who will soon be transitioning to a hybrid or fully in-person workplace model, here are some ways to help you better adjust and calm any stress or anxiety that you may have: 

  • Develop a personal plan to ease back into the office environment. Each company will have its own policies and procedures in place to help keep employees as protected and productive as possible. Find out how your company plans to transition employees back into the office and what precautions and practices will be implemented. Understanding your company’s re-entry plan – and asking for more information if you need it – will help decrease abrupt changes and support your mental health. 
  • Start a conversation and be honest with your employer. COVID-19 has created many new realities for professionals – some have become caretakers for ill family members, and childcare providers and teachers for their own children – all while balancing working from home. Take your own individual circumstances into account. If you are unable to return to in-person work full-time for any reason, reach out to your employer and work together to come up with an alternate transition plan.  
  • Invest in your social calendar. Last year, we were forced into physical isolation. Since then, our in-person contact with others has been limited and for some, nearly non-existent. As a result, there has been a significant increase in social anxiety, especially when it comes to returning to in-person work. Being at home has taken away all of those in between moments that we experience with others – conversations in the kitchenette, waves or handshakes down the hall, quick FYIs at the printer. We tend to overlook how important interacting with others is for our overall well-being and mental health. Start by picking up the phone and calling friends or family members. Resist the urge to only text or send emails as a form of connecting. Set up video chats to talk with people instead. 
  • Keep a routine. Humans are creatures of habit and routines allow us to be more productive and feel more accomplished. Work on one goal at a time. Start by waking up and going to bed around the same time every day. When you wake up, make a list of the things you want to accomplish that day; before you go to bed, check off what you were able to complete. Divide your day into blocks of time to do certain things – whether it is working on a project, spending time with family or focusing on self-care. 
  • Focus on self-care. This can be very challenging, especially to those who have taken on more responsibilities over the past year. Finding the time sometimes feels impossible but carving out 15–30 minutes a day for yourself will not only make you feel better, but it will also make you a better spouse, partner, employee, parent, caretaker and friend. 
  • Get moving. Exercise releases “feel good” hormones in your brain and body, boosting your mood, bettering your sleep, and rejuvenating your body. Carve out time to engage in some movement, even if it is a quick walk around the block at lunch time. 
  • Decrease unnecessary screen time. When not working, detox yourself from as many screens as possible – TV, phones, computers, iPads – especially at night. This will help decrease screen headaches and lead to better sleep patterns. 
  • Seek extra support. Don’t be afraid to seek out psychotherapy services or reach out to friends, family, and colleagues to help process and normalize some of what you are feeling.  
  • Improve your eating habits: Over the course of COVID-19, we have all at one point or another, given up our healthier eating habits. Yes, I am talking about the spoonful of cookie dough that we snuck after making batches and batches of cookies with the kids. Not only does improving your eating habits boost your energy and your sleep, but it also improves your mood and ability to be more efficient and focused. Ditch that nightly glass of wine, decrease your caffeine intake, and pay attention to your breakfast/lunch/dinner/snack habits. It could make a big difference in how you feel and your work productivity.  

We have worked in the office before and we will slowly re-adapt as society re-opens. Following these healthy tips to ease your stress and anxiety about going back to a hybrid or fully in-person workplace will help you adjust faster and more efficiently. 

Whether you are new to the job market or a seasoned professional, the Ignite Career Center, a program of Jewish Community Services, can help you go further and get there faster. Our highly experienced Career Coaches provide individuals of all backgrounds and abilities with the customized services and tools they need to stand out from the competition. To learn more, visit ignitecareercenter.com or call 410-466-9200.   

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The Associated is a home for everyone in the Baltimore Jewish community. We offer several email lists to help people find a community, engage with their peers and support Jewish journeys around the world.

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