How to navigate your return to the office
Not that long ago, many of us were struggling to adjust to working from home. COVID-19 forced people to learn how to stay productive and motivated in our jobs, while juggling increased family commitments like childcare and homeschooling. All while faced with the uncertainty and anxiety of life amidst a global pandemic.
It’s been a wild ride. And now, many of us are faced with the opposite challenge: returning to working in an office. But it’s not as simple as slipping back into how we used to do it, is it?
To start with, society and life as we know it has changed for good. Many people have found that working from home suits them more than the workplace. A lot of us even relocated to secure more affordable living arrangements outside of city centers.
There’s also plenty of nervousness being experienced about returning to the office after working remotely for so long. Some companies are transitioning to hybrid working styles, while some employees are desperate to cling to the work-life balance it allowed.
Acknowledge mixed feelings and opinions
Firstly, know that it’s okay to feel whatever you’re feeling. This is new territory for everyone – and that means the company you’re working for probably doesn’t know how to navigate this either.
Some organizations are leaning into new ways of working, with many (like Dropbox, Facebook and Aviva) accepting flexible work arrangements and hybrid working styles as the new norm. Others, however, expect employees to be in the office five day per week again soon. For example, Goldman Sachs CEO David Soloman has strongly rejected the idea of working from home calling it an ‘aberration’.
If your workplace is summoning you back to the office already, or if plans are underway to do so, you may not quite feel ready for it. Perhaps working from home is working for you. Many people are feeling the same way.
A Girls in Tech survey revealed that most of our members would prefer to work in the office 0-3 days per week. And a recent Limeade Institute survey found that out of 4,553 office workers in five different countries, every single person reported feeling anxious about the idea of returning to in-person work.
Every. Single. Person.
But before you start looking for a new job with flexible work arrangements, consider some of the potential pros of returning to the office.
Note the positives of working from the office
Culture and connection
Working remotely can make it more difficult to feel like you’re ‘a part of something’. Being onsite where the action happens can help connect with your organization’s vision. Not to mention the added benefits of social fulfilment and the banishment of Zoom fatigue.
Perhaps you decked your home office out just the way you like it. On the other hand, your ‘home office’ could be a corner of the kitchen table and a set of noise cancelling headphones to keep the sound of squabbling kids at bay.
Being in the company office may offer you company-funded benefits like extra monitors, an ergonomic office chair, good lighting and temperature control – and if you’re lucky, free tea and biscuits.
Separation of work and home
While working from home may have seen a rise in people (sometimes unintentionally) bringing their ‘authentic selves’ to work, being unable to separate work and home life has been a challenge for some. Getting out of the house and being in a different environment could be a major perk of returning to work, helping you ‘switch off’ when you leave work and spend more quality time with your family at home.
But be mindful of the negatives too
68.5% of people are anxious about returning to the office due to the commute it brings with it. With people travelling hours of the day travelling to and from work (often on overcrowded public transport systems – not conducive to social distancing), it’s no wonder this can be considered a negative of returning to the office.
Loss of flexibility
More time spent away from home results in less time available for spending with family, completing housework and self-care activities. Consider, for example, the challenge of squeezing a workout into a busy workday. When working at home, you can probably fit it in before starting work, on a lunch break or when you clock off. You’ve got a shower on hand for after the workout and fresh clothes at home to change into.
Negotiate a new normal that suits you
Whether you’re excited about the prospect of returning to the office, or unsure about it, we’re at a ‘critical crossroads’ right now in regards to what workplaces look like. It’s unlikely your office will look and operate the same as pre-pandemic times. But this mass return to work is an opportunity for us all to ‘get it right’.
Workplaces should be focusing on retaining staff and attracting new talent by creating a more inclusive culture focused on wellbeing. Meanwhile, employees should be advocating for their personal needs and career development. It’s about creating a scenario that works for everyone.
Your workplace should prioritize clear communication during the transition back to work. They should circulate any new or updated policies and make it clear what’s expected from employees. If you don’t feel like this is transparent in your organization, set up a meeting with your boss to clarify things for you.
You have an opportunity to advocate for your preferred working style right now. If you feel comfortable, start a conversation about how you can strike a good balance to be more productive and happy at work.
You may have adopted habits during the pandemic that you’d like to hold onto. For example, going for a daily lunchtime walk, or having family dinners each night. Discuss ways you can continue these practices when you return to the office.
Explore hybrid approach to offices
Allowing people to access offices as needed, or work from wherever allows them to be most productive, can boost efficiencies and improve employee satisfaction. The office of the future may include more hybrid working practices, which are worth raising with your employer if this would suit you.
The workforce has shifted considerably as a result of the pandemic. This could mean there are exciting new job openings in your company, or opportunities to explore new avenues in your work or career. Make time to meet with your boss to discuss where the company is headed and how you can be involved. This is a great time to be considering your future and setting yourself some goals.
Give yourself time
As great as it is to use this opportunity to rethink your career and ways of working to create a life that suits you – don’t rush into the office if you’re not ready. You’ve likely been at home or socializing in small groups for the past 18 months+. So allow yourself time to adjust to working in an office. Forgive yourself (and any colleagues) who aren’t up for company events just yet.
Plenty of leading tech jobs allow flexible working arrangements. If you’re not satisfied where you are – check out the Girls in Tech Jobs Board to see what else is out there.