Returning to the office after more than a year is a bit like returning to a town you lived in after moving away. On the one hand, things feel familiar but on the other hand, everything feels just a bit off because the environment has changed—and so have you.
As my time management coaching clients have transitioned back to the office, they’ve had to relearn a number of skills that were second nature to them in early 2020. And they’ve come to appreciate at a deeper level the time and energy that it takes to commute, which is why many are choosing to go in just a few days a week or to stay fully remote.
If you’re transitioning back to in-person working, here are a few areas where you’ll need to relearn how to do work in-person. If you’re still debating whether to return to the office, here are few areas you may need to reacquaint yourself with.
How to dress up
Wearing your work wardrobe and investing in regular self-care like getting your hair cut or even showering all felt pretty standard when you went into the office every day. But a lot of those habits may have gone by the wayside, especially if you live alone, and if you had very few video meetings.
To get back into the dressing-up routine, go through your clothes and make sure you know what fits. Then make sure that it’s clean so there’s less stress when you need to head out the door. You may even want to practice wearing your more professional clothes and shoes. Some of my coaching clients have said they needed to relearn how to walk in heels and that their calves were really sore at first. Finally, start to reestablish your grooming schedule in a way that fits with your commute. That may mean showering at night instead of in the morning or timing how long it takes you to do hair and makeup so that you can factor that into your morning prep time.
How to interact with other people
If you have been home with your spouse and children, going back to a partially full office may seem like an oasis of calm. But for those who have been working at home alone, it’s a big shift to get used to being around so much stimuli. This reentry into a foreign environment can be distracting and even fatiguing.
If you find yourself in that situation, think about how you can acclimate to your environment. That could include wearing noise-canceling headphones, positioning your computer in a way that you can’t see anyone else when you’re seated, or taking solo lunches or breaks where you’re completely alone to settle down your nervous system.
This sort of increased stimuli can be especially challenging for introverts. Though in time, you’ll get to used your company once again.
How to eat meals
For over 12 months, you had access to your entire kitchen when it was time for a lunch break or a snack. In some ways that was convenient because you didn’t need to plan food or beverages to bring into the office. But for many, it was a little too convenient. In the United States, an American Psychological Association survey, reported that one year into various pandemic-related lifestyle changes, 42% of American adults had undesired weight gain with the average weight gain being 29 pounds.
Preparing food to bring into the office will require a little more thought, but could be of great benefit if you’re looking to regain a healthy lifestyle. To facilitate better health, make sure you have a large water glass or water bottle to bring into the office. And if your office is not currently utilizing water fountains, also plan to bring in the water you’ll need. For planning your food, set aside a day to go to the grocery store, such as Sunday afternoons, and buy foods that are aligned with your nutrition goals. Pack your lunch and healthy snacks the night before and have them sitting in your refrigerator ready for you to grab on the way out the door. If you use this strategy and forego the vending machine and restaurant food, simply having distance between you and your fridge could be a transformative experience.
How to meet in-person
If all you had to do for meetings was throw in a Zoom link and click it at the designated time, it can be a big shift to get used to the more complex process of meeting in person. First off, when you’re scheduling meetings, remember that you need to also book a meeting room and include that information in the invite. (Sounds basic but some of my coaching clients have reported this information missing from meeting invites.) Also if you have some staff members who have never been to the office in person, you may want to consider including maps of the space so that they know where to find the meeting rooms as they’re adjusting to life in a totally new-to-them space.
Also, you need to remember to put in transition time. You can no longer be “instantly” at meetings but will need some buffer: potentially 5 to 10 minutes to wrap up, grab the items you need, and get to the correct location. And finally just in case meetings are starting late, you may want to bring something you can work on while you’re waiting so you don’t feel like you’re wasting time.
How to jump back into commuting
If you haven’t been into the office in quite a while, and even potentially moved since your last in-person work day, you’ll need to relearn your commuting process. I recommend doing a trial run of your morning if you’re really uncertain about how the public transportation will work out. Or if you’re planning on driving in, track the expected drive time on Google Maps at the time you think you need to leave for work over the course of a few days. That will give you a sense of the current state of traffic.
Also, look into parking options available and book that in advance if necessary. And finally, think about the best way for you to use the commute. That could be for making calls to friends or family members, listening to audio books, or simply taking time to decompress. Your commute is an extra time cost but could be a golden opportunity to fit something into your daily routine that you weren’t doing before.
You and your office are not the same as they were in March of 2020. But you can relearn essential behaviors to not only survive but also thrive as you return to in-the-office work.