So you’ve got one dress shoe in the office door, one slipper in your living room.
Yes, for many, a partial return to work is finally here.
Perhaps your company has armed you with an arsenal of antigen self-tests, the lure of free lunch at the office or the ability to select which days you come in versus workin’ from home.
Whatever the case, you’re maybe feeling a little — or a lot — anxious about it all.
“It’s understandable if employees are jittery about returning to the workplace after so long,” said Joe Flanagan, senior employment advisor at VelvetJobs, the career matchmaking platform that connects curated jobs to job-seekers globally.
“In addition to a massive change, it also represents foregoing the small luxuries that we have gotten used to while working from home and having more autonomy in the way we work. For many, the physical workplace, the culture or their colleagues are the biggest stressors of their job, and understandably so, they are reluctant to go back to the way things were.”
Still, career experts say you should do your best to try and spin things positively.
“For life at work, there is no ‘back to normal,’ ” said Maureen Kennedy, a coach at Bravely, an NYC-based company that provides professional coaching for corporate employees.
“What we’re getting instead is something better: the opportunity to reinvent from the ground up. That’s exciting, but it’s also daunting, and won’t happen overnight. If we stay curious and courageous, we can continue to experiment and [find better ways] of working.”
Below, here are a few of those tips and tricks to get the most out of hybrid work.
Remember we’re all in the same boat
You’re not the only one feeling overwhelmed.
“Although HR and/or your boss might come across as confident regarding a return to the office, they are all just as unsure and nervous about the transition as you are,” said Dr. Michael McCutcheon, co-founder and head of coaching at Wanderlust Careers, an NYC-based career services firm, stressing that this adjustment is strange for everyone, regardless of where they stand on the totem pole.
“Be sure to practice self-compassion and patience while you figure out how to navigate this brave new world that is the in-office/WFH hybrid.”
To quell your anxiety, McCutcheon advised that the best thing you can do for yourself is to be transparent with anyone being directly impacted by your return to work (partner, kids, roommate, work friends, etc.).
Tell them what you are specifically nervous about and how they can help.
“People who care about you want to support you during these times. They just need to be told what you need from them,” said McCutcheon. “Even something as simple as asking a close co-worker, ‘Hey, I’ve been super anxious about riding the train to work and being in a closed space all day. Would you mind going for a walk with me over lunch for a quick venting session?’ can alleviate so much of your back-to-work stress. And they’ll probably need the support, too.”
Set rituals for your ‘at-home’ days
Your office days will have a built-in routine, stressed Kennedy.
“You wake up at a certain time, get dressed a certain way, and make your commute,” she said. On the flip side, WFH is more freewheeling, so “adding consistent elements of structure to your home days can boost your motivation to get through them.”
Now that you have the structure of an office schedule part of the time, it’s prudent to solidify some practices at home. For instance, start your day at home with a “commute” by taking a walk.
Get away from the computer with regularly scheduled stretching or fitness breaks.
“Importantly, your ‘home rituals’ don’t have to mirror your ‘office rituals,’ or even be confined to the morning,” said Kennedy. “They can be whatever helps you stay motivated and focused throughout the day.”
Listening to a certain radio station (Hello, WQXR), drinking from a specific mug and setting timers for tasks go a surprisingly long way in terms of signifying that it’s work time.
Use office days strategically to advance your career
Ah, body language above the shoulders, remember that?
“Schedule all your brainstorming and creative meetings on the days you are in the office,” said Flanagan. “Don’t be caught slacking or idling away too much time on personal tasks, talking on the phone or other such things on the days you are in.”
Flanagan suggests you can show initiative and take up an extra responsibility or two outside your immediate projects at work, like organizing a quiz or arranging for a team lunch.
Even impromptu “water cooler” breaks can be a great time to make a good impression in the workplace.
“Unfortunately, our social skills are just like every other muscle — if you don’t use it, you lose it,” said McCutcheon. “Think of the hours in the office as an opportunity for keeping your interpersonal chops ready for action.”
Some experts suggested that taking a back seat can be a boon for your success at work, too.
“It may seem counterintuitive, but one of the best things you can do to ‘compete’ is to not compete at all,” said Kennedy. “Instead of thinking of winning the fight for visibility, focus on elevating the team as a whole. Bring new voices into conversations; be generous with giving public recognition. In an environment where most people will be trying to get noticed, it’s the ‘includers’ who will stand out.”
Have grace when things go wrong
It’s important to have clarity of role, timing, expectation and goals before the hybrid model takes effect, said Flanagan, but be aware that things might not go without a hitch even with careful planning.
“Don’t expect things to be smooth and seamless from the first day, and show flexibility,” said Flanagan.
“Depending on your relationship with your colleagues, it might take some time to get back the same cordial warmth, but don’t overdo it or complain about coming back to work on the very first day.”
If you can show that you can be patient and understanding while the kinks in the new hybrid system are ironed out, it won’t go unnoticed. “And if that feels like too much work, bringing in doughnuts, bagels and cupcakes should do the trick,” said McCutcheon.
Can’t stand office life? Give it time
A brutal commute, health concerns — whatever it is, you may want to shift to fully remote despite your company going full steam ahead with a hybrid setup.
“Going to the boss after the first day back to demand a complete WFH schedule might not be the best approach,” said Flanagan, who suggested you wait at least a month before expressing your desire to WFH full time.
“Be authentic in your request and state the reason why you prefer working from home and in what ways it impacts your output or results,” he said. “If your employer isn’t willing to let you go and values you, chances are they will agree.”