The last year has been a blur of big jumpers, leggings and working on the sofa for many people stuck at home. But now a plan has been announced to gradually lift the lockdown restrictions, many of us are thinking about the future and the changes we will face once again.
Although many people have missed office chit chat and face-to-face interactions with colleagues, lots of us have become accustomed to working remotely. We’ve become used to working in our kitchens, dressing in loungewear and skipping the commute for leisurely walks.
“Many of us have become very comfortable with our own company as a result of the pandemic — some of us have a new realisation that we're actually more introverted than we thought,” says Valerie O'Hanlon career coach at Clarence Consulting.
“We have locked ourselves away in our home offices or spare bedrooms and only come out for short bursts to walk the dog, grab a coffee or a quick lunch. We have become accustomed to managing ourselves more productively without the distractions of our work colleagues stopping by our desks for a quick chat or our managers watching our every move. Working alongside others is going to take a bit of getting used to again.”
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There are a number of reasons why we might struggle with the shift to workplace working.
Interacting with people may have an impact on our energy levels, O’Hanlon says, as will travelling to offices and workspaces. We may be out of touch when it comes to small talk, so we may find it overwhelming to suddenly be around others.
Nichola Johnson-Marshall, co-founder of Working Wonder, a training and coaching consultancy, says some people will have even started a new role during this time, so it’s no surprise that heading to physical workplaces will be a big transition.
“There may well be some people who you’ve been working with over the last year that you’ve never actually worked with in person until this moment so this will take some adjustment,” she says.
“Even that first greeting and realising they are taller or shorter than you thought, or that their voice sounds different in person will take some getting used to. But what’s important to remember is that we are all just people who are excited to be working together regardless of how or where we are.”
There will also be more changes like having to social distance, wear masks and potentially avoid communal areas, which will take some getting used to. After a year of bad news, social isolation and constant changes to the way we live, many people are feeling anxious about the future and the return to normality too. So how can we make the shift to office working a little easier once the current restrictions lift?
“Keep a clear structure to your day, set appropriate boundaries for your diary, your time and your personal space,” O’Hanlon says. “Notice your energy levels and if you find them dropping, get out for a walk and some fresh air, or book a meeting room where you can work quietly on your own.
Others may also be finding the transition hard, as well as the practicalities that come with the change, such as finding childcare. Speaking to others can help lighten the mental load and put things into perspective.
Soma Ghosh, careers adviser at The Career Happiness Mentor, recommends thinking about how you work best. If you’re happier working from home, it might be worth speaking to your employer about a “hybrid” working arrangement where you work in the office for part of the week.
“Would you be happier going in for a few days in the week, rather than the whole week? As part of the transition of going back to work, talk to your boss or supervisor to get an idea of how work will change for you and your team. Find out if there will be a particular system in place for going in and will you have support as a part of this.”
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Your manager may offer a phased approach to returning to the workplace, which can give you more time to adjust to the new working situation.
“People talk a lot about ‘going back to the office or work’ but at Working Wonder, we think that phrase is unhelpful as you are not going backwards, as the working environment has massively evolved and professional relationships have changed too,” says Johnson-Marshall. “Instead you should focus on ‘going forwards’ to work and this will help you see it as a positive transition.”
There are many positives that have come out of working in a virtual world. After a year of video calls, we might have a clearer understanding and appreciation for our colleagues’ responsibilities and personal lives. Johnson-Marshall recommends using this familiarity you have developed to connect with them when you see each other in person.
“Also it’s worth thinking about how other people like to work,” she says. “Not everyone is going to be excited about being in an office environment so it’s important to be mindful of that. Take the time to understand what works best for yourself and your colleagues ahead of that time, so that you can create a working environment - whether physical, virtual or a blend that works well for everyone.”
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