A medical face covering sat on a white office desk beside what appears to be a blue bottle of hand sanitising gel. Behind these is the upper body of a person sat at the desk, wearing a long-sleeved grey top and typing on a laptop.

Back to the office: advice for you and your manager

If you’re one of the many people preparing to make a return to the office, how are you feeling about it? All things considered, it’s completely understandable to feel a sense of trepidation and you certainly won’t be alone. After all, being wrenched away from what was effectively your second home was an incredible and sudden adaptation to make.

According to research, it takes between 66 and 254 days to form a habit and that’s exactly what we’ve done – broken the habit of being at work and replaced it with the habit of work being with us. So, as we move into yet another phase of change, it’s important to treat ourselves with care. But what can you do to make the transition back into the workplace less stressful and, if you’re a manager too, support your team as they return? 

Plan ahead

Feel confident that you know what to expect when you arrive at the office. Familiarise yourself with any changes. Perhaps there are new Covid compliant protocols to follow as you travel around the building? Do you need to book a hot desk? Where are masks required? What are arrangements around eating lunch and taking refreshments? The more you know, the more comfortable you will feel, even when things are unfamiliar to begin with.

Have that conversation

It’s absolutely an ok to feel anxious. And it’s also absolutely ok to ask for help and support in managing that anxiety. Whether you go down the route of speaking to a healthcare professional or seek the support of an organisation, such as Mind in the UK or your local network, it’s an important step and one that will make the move back to the office easier. Don’t be afraid to ask your line manager for a confidential conversation about how you’re feeling – your wellbeing is their priority, and they want you to be making this change at a pace that is right for you. 

Cover the basics

As your routine begins to assume a new shape, it’s a good idea to be in a good place physically in readiness for the change. Do you need to start going to bed earlier because you’ll be waking earlier? Have you slipped into the habit of drinking too much caffeine or having that extra glass of wine in the evening? How’s your diet? Are you drinking enough water? When you look after your body, it makes it easier to cope with the challenges that life gives us. 

Be gentle with yourself 

Take some time each day to give yourself a little TLC. Read a book, perhaps practice a little mindfulness or do some stretches. These are all things that are proven to ease anxiety and boost wellbeing. Not only that, but they are also a break in the day to do something that is just for you. Remind yourself that there is no ‘normal’ way to adapt to these changes and know that you’re doing your very best. And what you feel today may not be how you feel tomorrow. And that’s ok too.

Two women in business suits sit in a brightly lit room on green and white plastic office chairs, with a table between them. They are opposite each other and gesturing as though having a conversation.
Settling back into an old (but very new) routine comes with challenges. Communication and compassion are key in ensuring everyone is happy.

If you’re also a manager, you’ll be used to looking after the needs of your team, but to borrow a well-used expression – these are unprecedented times. For the period ahead, you’ll need to be prepared to give them time to settle back in and, once again, acclimatise to their new circumstances. And know that everyone, including you, is doing their best. 

Communicate, communicate, communicate

In the absence of information, we all default to filling the gap with theories – some more grounded in fact than others! This is why it’s critically important to share knowledge with your team and don’t skip the details. Be timely, sensitive, and open, and not only will everyone appreciate the extra effort you’re making, but it will play a big part in making your team feel confident and included as they find their feet. 

Check-in frequently 

Even in more normal times, a one-to-one to ask, “How are you?” was an immensely important part of being a manager. Today, it’s not just important, it’s essential. It’s about creating a safe space where you can discuss any concerns and put in place practical ways of support. But even more imperative is the opportunity to keep a close eye on those less obvious signs of anxiety – changes in behaviour or motivation levels, or appearing tired and withdrawn, for example. Should this be the case, there is some excellent advice available from MIND and it’s also worth asking for confidential support from your Human Resources contact. 

Let everyone go at their own pace 

Let’s face it, not everyone will hit the ground running, so you’ll need to assume that some (if not all) members of your team are going to need time to settle into both being back at the office and the new ways of working that come with it. While everyone juggles the old with the new, be understanding and accepting of how the pandemic may have changed people’s circumstances, as this can also add to the pressure. Perhaps they have family who require support or they have suffered from Covid 19 themselves. 

Finally, remember that our differences are what make our teams stronger. As we all take our first steps towards a future that is, at present, still uncertain, we will all need to support each other, show kindness to one another and share the common goal of settling back into our old, but new, routine.

Written by Anna Shaw