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How to survive going back to the office

Christina Ablahad

Posted by Christina A.

08.18.21

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How to survive going back to the office

If there’s one constant in the world, it’s that things never stop changing. Just when you were getting used to working from home, you got the message that you’ll be back in the office soon. For some, this is a nightmare. For others, it’s long overdue relief. Regardless of which camp you fall in, shaking up your workplace is going to throw you off balance for a bit.

Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to make the transition much easier, and we’re going to lay them out for you right now.

Schedule hygiene

It’s too easy to roll out of bed and flip on the computer while you sip some coffee without bothering to change or shower, and that’s been the new norm for a while. If you’re in video chats all day, you might put on a shirt that isn’t tattered and pretend to fix your hair a little, but that’s not enough, now is it?

Getting back into a traditional hygiene routine will feel weirder than you think. Sure, on day one you’ll feel nostalgic for how you used to live, but that wears off pretty quickly. Preparation will help you rebuild habits before you’re working around people every day.

Maybe get back into showering first thing in the morning. You can’t put off brushing your teeth anymore — promising that you’ll get to it after a morning break. So, make sure you have enough time in the morning for that important chore. You might be surprised at how good it makes you feel.

You’ve done all of this before. You know what to do, but you have to physically get back in the habit of it all. If you restore hygiene habits before you’re at work, it will lower some of the stress that comes with transitioning to a new work routine.

man in office

Talk to people

And chatting via messenger doesn’t count. This sounds so silly, but working from home killed office small talk. Plenty of people don’t really miss it, but it’s going to be a thing again. When you're not actively discussing work stuff in a video meeting, it usually goes quiet (except for that one guy who won’t shut up). Everyone has plenty of other things to occupy their mind (pets, kids, the internet). 

When you get back to a physical workplace, you’ll have to remember how to have conversations with people. Sure, you might have some work friends, but there are also awkward acquaintances, and you’ve been able to avoid those conversations for too long now.

The best way to prepare is to get back into small talk. Strike up conversations with strangers when you’re waiting in line for stuff. It won’t always go well, but they aren’t exactly important people in your life. It’s ok to let your awkwardness out on them so you’re a little more socially functional at work. Prep by scanning a couple of news websites before you get to work so you have some material. Is that cheating? We call it preparation.

This whole thing might feel weirder than you would expect —- especially if you’ve been going hard into the shut-in life. Still, you’ll get used to people pretty quickly, and it’s all that much easier when you make this effort before the big shift.

Practice your planned work day

Arguably, the very best thing about working from home is the flexibility. When you take your lunch, it takes about two minutes to acquire food and maybe five to eat it. The rest of that time is yours, and you'll use it a ton of different ways. The same goes for the commuting time that you save.

There are a ton of little ways that working from home is convenient (and pooping in your own bathroom while on the clock might be the best thing in the history of humanity). When you’re suddenly not working at home anymore, you’ll notice all of that lost time and convenience.

Because of this, it’s important to practice your planned workday. You know what a typical day to and from work is like. Do you go to the gym before or after work? Do you regularly pick up food or groceries on the way home? There are countless interactions like this. Plan them out, and then go through some workdays like that while you’re still at home. Go ahead and get up extra early for hygiene and commuting. Stop by the store immediately after work. Do all of the things. If they feel more routine, you won’t miss the old freedom quite as badly (although you will still miss it).

man holding a mask

Learn all of the new rules

Let’s remember why everyone switched to working from home in the first place. We’re not health experts here, and we’re not going to try to comment on what should or shouldn’t be done in your workplace.

Instead, we’ll point out that every company is going to have its own policies. Each state, city and county is likely to add its own set of rules to the mix. None of the rules are fully locked in, so expectations are going to be all over the place, and the rules will likely change more than a few times.

Despite how frustrating at least some of it is bound to be, take the time to learn the new policies and procedures. This might be a significant source of new and additional stress that wasn't part of your job before.

You need to know if you have to maintain certain distances from people at work. Are you wearing masks? Are you responsible for sanitizing certain areas? These questions are a drop in the bucket of all of the potential rules you might see. It’s better to be mentally prepared than to be steamrolled by all of the new rules when you’re still trying to get used to commuting to an office again.

Here’s the bottom line. You didn’t always work from home. You know how all of this goes, but it’s easy to underestimate how jarring the transition can be. Working from home took adaptation on your part. Going back to commuting will require similar responses on your end. You really can do it, but any effort you put in now will help you down the road. And don’t forget: A lot of employers are implementing hybrid models, so you can have the best of both in-office and at-home work.

08.18.21

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