Many of us will now have spent months at home - either working, or not - but might now finally be preparing for a return to the workplace. After weeks of lockdown and a complete change of routine, combined with anxiety around health and travelling on public transport, this can feel a daunting prospect.
Judith Plastow, founder of business consultancy Co-Thinking Company, points out that how someone will feel about returning to work very much depends on that individual's experience of isolation.
“It’s likely that your lockdown experience will have a strong influence on how you respond to transitioning from out of it,” Plastow notes. “For some, it has been lonely, restrictive and worrying, while others report benefitting from a slower pace of life, enjoying having fewer demands. It’s worth thinking about what a return to normality might mean for you, to help mentally prepare yourself.”
Below, Plastow shares her three key pieces of advice for how to make that transition back to work a little smoother.
Take it slow
Avoid any pressures to get back to ‘normal’ working immediately, so you don’t end up feeling overwhelmed. “Identify a realistic list of what you would like to achieve in the first 30 days of being back to work, to help give you a sense of direction and purpose across that period,” Plastow advises.
If you think it would help - and you are able to - try taking things one step at a time. “It might be possible to phase your return to work, to help acclimatise," she adds. "This is a good way of managing the transition and it could be worth talking to your HR team or manager about how this might be implemented."
Be open about anxieties
Previous anxieties might creep back in once you return to the workplace - whether that’s with regards to office politics or battling with the daily commute - but there could also be new worries to take into consideration, such as concerns about the cleanliness of the office environment.
“If you notice yourself feeling anxious please try not to worry about that, it’s quite normal. Periods of change are often when anxieties can get triggered. Notice your feelings and the thoughts associated with them,” says Plastow.
“Take a step back and evaluate those thoughts. How true are they? If you shared them with your friend or manager would they agree, or would they challenge them, thinking you were being tough on yourself?”
Keep a check on how you're feeling; try scaling your anxiety out of 10 or keep a diary to track your emotions. “If you see it spiralling or remaining high, seek help to manage it," advises Plastow. "It’s much better to do this sooner rather than later. Many workplaces have mental health support in place."
Importantly, ensure you know where you can find support should you need it - whether that’s through a mental health first aider, an approachable manager or your HR representative.
Retain the positives from working in lockdown
“Many who have been able to work from home during the lockdown, have reported advantages as well as constraints. Where possible, try and retain these benefits even when normality resumes,” says Plastow. “Blend these with the positives of being in the office to create a more enhanced way of working.”
If having more flexibility with working has made your time in lockdown more enjoyable, or if you’ve been exercising more during the morning or at lunchtime, talk to your manager about how you could incorporate an improved work/life balance into your return to work. This will help your mental health in the long run, while simultaneously allowing you to keep up some of the good routines you may have started and come to rely on in lockdown.
If you are feeling nervous about the return to work, Plastow offers a note of reassurance, explaining that “many people returning from career breaks are often surprised at how quickly they settle back into previous routines, soon feeling like they have never left. Often the anticipation is far worse than the reality.”
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