Whether you are required to go into the office one day or five days a week, returning to the office after more than 15 months of working from home will be an adjustment.
“The workplace you go back to will be different from the workplace you left,” says executive women’s coach Anne Shoemaker. “It’s important to get grounded in the here and now, and take stock of what you can and can’t control.”
Here are five concrete steps you can take the first week you’re back in the office to help ease your transition.
Talk it out with coworkers ahead of time
Before heading back into the office, reach out to your coworkers and have a collaborative conversation about how you will greet each other that first day back, suggests executive coach Kym Lee-Harris. Knowing ahead of time whether you will be hugging your colleagues or just doing elbow bumps will take some of the anxiety out of initial in-person encounters, she says.
Depending the city you work in, masks might be optional now so you should also discuss whether the team would wear masks in the office and keep a distance between colleagues. “Have a slate of agreement before you go in so everyone is operating from the same page,” Lee-Harris says.
Establish a framework for your day
While you were working from home, you might have established a daily exercise or mediation routine, and your schedule might have allowed you to make family dinners a nightly ritual. Your daily schedule will likely change once you’re going into an office to work.
“Think about what habits you’d like to maintain when you’re back in the office and where they can fit into your day,” Lee-Harris says. “What are the guidelines and boundaries you can create for yourself as you return to the office that will allow you to enjoy the rituals you established while working from home?” Perhaps that means making sure you’re home by 6 p.m. a few nights a week to continue your family dinner ritual or, instead of going for a run in the middle of the day, maybe you commit to running in the morning before leaving for work.
Your morning schedule will likely change, too, and it probably won’t feel quite as leisurely. “We’re not used to leaving the house in the morning so you might want to build some extra time into your morning, at least during the first few days back, to prevent yourself from feeling rushed and frantic,” suggests Mini Bishop, co-founder of The Resting Mind, career coaching for Gen X women. If it took you an hour to get out the door in the morning before COVID, give yourself 90 minutes to get out the door that first day back, she suggests.
Schedule time with your boss
During that first week back, ask your boss for a 30-minute one-on-one meeting to find out what your manager’s priorities are now that you’re back in the office. “Make it beneficial for your boss to meet with you,” says Bishop. For instance, say you want to discuss how you can make your manager’s life easier during the transition. Ask whether expectations, deadlines or processes have changed now that you’re working in an office together.
During your one-on-one meeting be clear about what you need in this current moment to successfully transition back to the office, says Jennifer Tardy, CEO of Jennifer Tardy Consulting LLC. For instance, if you’re returning to the office during the summer and have children, you might need to some extra flexibility until school starts again in the fall. “It’s completely OK to sit down with your manager and say, ‘I know previously I was working until 6 p.m. but right now, I have to leave at 4 p.m.,’ ” Tardy says. Be clear with your boss that leaving at 4 p.m. won’t be forever but that, right now, during the summer, you need to leave early to take care of your family, she adds.
Ask about internal job openings
About 4 million people quit their jobs in April alone, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. More resignations are expected throughout the summer. That means, if you like your job and see yourself staying at your current company, now is the time to talk to your boss about a possible promotion, especially if there are plenty of job openings across the company, says Barbara Brooks, Founder and CEO of SecondAct|Women.
Allow yourself time to re-engage
Keep in mind that it might take some time to get used to being in an office environment again. Most people spent the last 15 months alone or only socializing with small groups. Give yourself permission to skip any big office lunches or happy hours.
“If being around people is overwhelming, consider getting to work earlier than your colleagues to help you ease into spending time with your coworkers,” Brooks says. This will also allow you to beat the traffic in and out of the office.
Give yourself and your coworkers some grace the first few months, Shoemaker says. “Going back on day one, or even the first week, won’t be perfect,” she says. Be mindful that your colleagues might have had experienced loses during the past 15 months and might still be dealing with those feelings. “Everyone might not come out of the experience the same person they were before it happened,” Bishop says. “Our emotions may be high because we’re all navigating something new.”