Most Australians were desperate for lockdowns to end and have life return to normal. While the pandemic is far from over, people are now slowly returning to their old everyday lives. For many, that means leaving their home office and returning to their workplace. Going back to work will feel different for everyone.
Some workers will make the transition back to the office like they’ve only been gone for a long weekend. By lunchtime, they will be back into the groove of working in the office and won’t give their work from home days a second thought.
Then, there will be other workers who are resentful about going back - they enjoyed the freedom and benefits that working from home offered them. Others will be nervous about getting back on public transport and stepping into a workplace with hundreds, maybe thousands of people who they see as potential COVID-19 carriers. Some workers will be open about their anxiety about returning, while other workers will keep their worries to themselves.
In some workplaces, there may be workers who aren’t vaccinated. Their opinions and actions may frustrate or anger some of their colleagues. Differences of opinion can cause friction and dispute in the workplace.
There are a few things you can do to make those first few weeks a little easier as you head back to your workplace.
When people feel stressed or angry, they’re more likely to lash out at those around them. Many retail stores have displayed signs since the start of the pandemic requesting customers to respect their staff. Office workplaces may need to remind staff to show respect to their fellow colleagues. If a colleague isn’t following the COVID safe practices, remind them politely or report it to a manager or HR rather than having a confrontation.
You may not be worried about the virus, but many people are, so respect their feelings. Keep 1.5 metres from colleagues where possible and follow all COVID-safe practices the organisation has put in place.
Now that our understanding of infectious disease is much greater, use that knowledge to reduce your chance of catching any cold, flu or virus that may be going around. Wash or sanitise your hands when you enter the workplace, before you eat, and after using the restroom. Remember not to touch your face while you’re out in public so that you don’t transfer the germs from your fingers onto your nose, mouth or eyes, where it can enter the body.
Transitioning from home back to the workplace isn’t easy. If you’ve been working from home for some time, your brain is going to take time to get used to your new daily routine. Don’t expect to be at peak productivity while you familiarise yourself with the new surroundings. There will be plenty of new or different distractions that you didn’t have at home.
You won’t be used to getting ready for the office or commuting, which can add hours of time to your day. The reduced personal time can be frustrating. Try to still enjoy some of the activities you did when you were working from home. If you were going for a walk each day, either get up earlier and continue to walk near home or walk during your lunch break. If you took up a hobby, find time on the weekend or at night to continue your hobby. Commuting is also tiring, so don’t be surprised if you need to change the time you go to bed.
Make the most of your return to work by focusing on the positives and doing things you couldn’t while in lock-down. Organise to have a drink or lunch break with a colleague you’ve missed and catch up. Visit your favourite coffee shop or lunch spot. Go shopping at lunch time or meet a friend after work who is in the area. Enjoy doing some exercise in a suburb that is further than a few kilometres from home.
If the organisation offers a wellbeing program, get involved. The program may help you deal with any stress or anxiety around returning to the office. The program can help with physical or mental wellbeing, or a combination of the two through a digital platform and app such as AltiusLife or physical activities.
If you’re feeling stressed or anxious about going back to work, tell someone. It may be your manager, a colleague or someone in HR. If you prefer not to speak to anyone at work, use the Employee Assistance Program to speak to a psychologist. If you tell someone how you’re feeling it can provide you with some strategies or reassurance.
Remember, it takes time to get used to change, often both mentally and physically. Give yourself time and if you need, seek support along the way.