Alexandra Sampson

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March 16, 2022

Return to Office 2022: 5 Ways to Prepare For a Smooth Transition

Work

After being home for 2 years, I return to the office this week. To be honest, I have mixed feelings about it.

On one hand, it will be nice to collaborate with colleagues in person, have access to a full suite of office tools to expedite certain tasks (hello, commercial printer), and be back in a formal office setting. And while I’ve enjoyed rocking athleisure most days of the week, it will be nice to pull out the work wardrobe again.  However, I’ve really grown to enjoy the benefits of working from home – being able to run a load of laundry during my lunch hour, not having to worry about forgetting my lunch, avoiding the commute hustle, and being home when my kids return from school – and will miss these things.

With a number of companies preparing for spring 2022 office returns, there are a plethora of writings circulating the internet on how employers can prepare for a myriad of issues.  Unfortunately, I haven’t seen nearly as many on how employees can practically navigate this transition.

Here are 5 tips to help make your return to the office a bit smoother.

1. This Isn’t A Return To Your Pre-Pandemic Work-Life.

First things first – mentally and emotionally prepare for the fact that we’re embarking upon something new. (News flash: We are not picking up where we left off 2 years ago.)  While we are returning to the office, many of us are not returning to our pre-pandemic work lives.

Some will be returning to a hybrid in-office / remote work schedule.  Others may be returning to a different office or employer.  Some may have kids that are in new schools. Others may have more kids now than they had 2 years prior.  And some, bless your hearts, may experience one or more of the above. Plus, your experience could be further impacted by a spouse or significant other who is also experiencing these changes.  These are just a few ways your return to office flow may differ from the experience you left behind pre-pandemic.

Think of it this way: When the pandemic first hit, we were forced to transition from our normal workflow to something that was very different and, dare I say, chaotic. In the same way, you should expect to need time to adjust to returning to the office.  Setting this expectation helps to minimize disappointments or feelings of failure if things don’t flow as easily as imagined.

2. Visualize Your Return to Office Workday.

Take a moment to close your eyes and visualize your new workday. How does it start? What are you doing throughout the day? What tasks must you accomplish?  Visualizing helps to identify the ways your workday will change so that you can prepare before those changes happen.

For instance, if you currently work remotely and prepare lunch on the spot in your home kitchen, you’ll now need to figure out how you’ll approach lunch prep for your office return. Will you prepare it the night before or the morning of? Will you grab take out nearby or schedule a DoorDash delivery? As you visualize your day, try to envision every action – from the time you wake up to settling in for bed at night.  Once you’re done, write down all of the things that took place, compare them with your current workday flow, and give thought to the adjustments you’ll need to make.

Things that may need to be addressed or changed are: wake and bed times, morning and evening commutes, childcare / after school arrangements, meal prep, work wardrobe, and office protocols.  And if you’re returning to the office on a hybrid basis (like me), you may need to visualize and plan for two different days – your work from home days, and your in-office days.

3. “Test Drive” Your Return to Office.

If you have the ability, test out your new workday before your first official day back in the office.

If your office is open, go in and work the exact hours you expect to work upon your return.  This allows you to get a sense for your commute, test out tasks that need to happen before and after work, and request support from family, friends or caregivers.  Also, if something doesn’t go smoothly, you can make any necessary adjustments before your official return date.

If you’re not able to go into the office before your return date, try simulating your return to office workday from your remote work location. Prepare for, start, and end your day the same way you would if you were actually going into the office.  (Heck, get wild and crazy and actually dress in office attire.)  You can even do a “virtual commute” by using the “set departure and arrival time” feature in Google Maps to get a sense for your commute based on typical traffic patterns.

4. Establish (or Reset) Boundaries and Expectations.

The return to office is a great opportunity to set, refine, or reiterate healthy boundaries.

If you established boundaries before the pandemic, reevaluate them and decide the ones you plan to keep or reinstate. If you didn’t previously have boundaries, consider the return to office an opportunity to set healthy ones.

As you consider setting boundaries, think about the things that align with your values, nurture you to be your best self, and are the clear nonnegotiables in your life.  Just remember, boundaries are only effective if they’re communicated, so be sure the stakeholders in your life know yours. And don’t be surprised if you need to negotiate or advocate for what you need.

Examples of areas where you may need to set workplace boundaries include your work schedule, scope of responsibilities / workload, and physical space (especially on the heels of pandemic-related physical distancing requirements). If you need help setting them, Career Contessa has great tips for establishing healthy workplace boundaries.

But boundaries aren’t just for work. You may need to set boundaries or expectations with family and friends since these individuals may have had greater access to you during your remote work stint than they will now.

5. Give Yourself Grace.

If you don’t do anything else on this list, be sure to implement this one. Even the most carefully thought out return-to-office plans are bound to encounter unexpected hiccups. Give yourself grace as you adjust to this new life transition. Late arrival to the office; late pick up from childcare; more take out for dinner than you’d like – these are examples of things we don’t desire, but may happen.  We must remember that we’re imperfect people who do our best to serve those around us well, but will inevitably fall short at times.  Be kind to yourself because you deserve it!

Flashback! Writing this post took me back to memories of my original work from home transition at the onset of the pandemic. (I still can’t believe it’s been 2 years.) Check out how I navigated working full-time while parenting and homeschooling 2 school-aged children.

Return to Office

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