Returning to the Office After Lockdown

CIM Ireland Board Member Alastair Chambers presents his Top Ten Tips for coming back to the workplace.

There is no doubt about it, 2020 has been a rollercoaster ride of a year with everything the Coronavirus Pandemic has thrown at us, and it looks like it could be around for a while yet. There are two schools of thought around in terms of office workers at the moment. One is that, if you can still work from home, you should, and the other are those companies who have put in place stringent measures to help bring staff back in to the office safely. If you are returning to the office, then this can be a very anxious transition from what might have been six or more month working from home, back in to the corporate environment. With social distancing measures in place, it won’t be the same environment you left. That said, it is still very possible to return to the ‘new norm’ (I hate that phrase) and settle in very well.

I returned to the office at the beginning of August, so here are my Top 10 Tips for making a smooth transition back from Teams meetings in pyjamas, to socially distanced board room meetings.

1. Speak to your employer before you return.

Most likely your employer will have a Covid-19 plan in place and have already spoken to you about how and when to return safely. But in case they haven’t, ask if there is a plan you can see and what safety measures have been implemented for your return. Typical measures include temperature checks on arrival, hand sanitisation stations, seating areas spaced 2 meters apart and facemask use where social distancing cannot be achieved.

2. Start practicing your work routine a few days before your return date.

So, lets face it, we’ve all sat up a little later, started the work day in our pyjamas at least once, and used our commute time for an extra hour in bed, but this makes returning to normal all the more difficult. A few days before returning to work, set your alarm for your usual work time, get up and start getting used to it again. You might even want to make a packed lunch the night before just to get that routine going again.

3. Try on your work wardrobe as soon as you can.

Yes, I am speaking from experience here. Over lockdown and working from home, I, like many others, did enjoy the close proximity to the kitchen a little too much and my wardrobe did bear the brunt of it. The forgiving elastics of tracksuits and loungewear masked the fact that when I put my office attire on again, it would be the buttons and zips socially distancing. On one hand, I bought some new clothes but on the other hand I also kicked myself in to touch to get a little healthier again and slither myself back in to my old clothes again too.

4. Speak to your colleagues.

Have a chat with your colleagues if you can. Have any of them returned already? Can they give you a heads up of what to expect? This can help to put your mind at ease and realise it won’t be too bad.

5. Think about your journey to work.

Think about how you are getting to work now. You may not have been out of the house much since lockdown began. If you normally take public transport, make sure you are aware of the rules and regulations as well as any changes to timetables. Maybe even try a short bus or train journey if you feel this would help you get used to the new guidelines.

6. Get a good night sleep.

Make sure you get a good night sleep a few nights before you return to the office. This will help give you the energy and stamina to tackle the first day back. Of course, it is important to maintain good sleep at the best of times also.

7. Arrival on the first day back.

Before returning, ask if there will be someone there to greet you and take you through the new procedures in the office and show you to your seating area, this may have moved from you last left the office, to comply with social distancing.

8. Flexible working.

Most employers will be allowing more of a degree of flexible working, particularly around issues of childcare so there may still be some options to work from home where circumstances dictate. Speak to your employer about this before you return if you think there might be any issues.

9. Take your time to settle back in.

It may be daunting returning to the office, so take your time to get settled back in. Don’t be too hard on yourself if it takes a few days, before long it will be like you were never away. If you are anxious about the return, it may be worth speaking to your line manager about a phased return to help get used to the new procedures.

10. Enjoy being able to get back out and in to a routine again.

It goes without saying that long periods of isolation can have an effect on our mental health, so although you may have got used to working from home, try to enjoy and embrace getting out and meeting people again and having a routine. Home is home and work is work, try to keep the two separate as much as possible to enable you to switch off and enjoy life as well.