There is a case for cautious optimism as provinces reopen and vaccination rates increase. Reopening is shining a light at the end of the COVID tunnel, which hints at a life that may return to ‘normal’—a time when we can get our routines back and do what we did pre-COVID. There is a strong sense of wishing we could put this all behind us and move on; however, many of us still have feelings of anxiety about returning to normal and what that might look like at work.
It’s a Matter of Preference
Many factors feed into the anxiety of returning to the workplace, including the desire to maintain the current routine. We have had nearly two years of not being in public and having complete control of our interactions with others. We repeatedly heard about the dangers associated with COVID-19, which may have caused uneasy feelings to surface. Additionally, we may have just adapted to this new way of life and the routines associated with working from home for some of us. According to a survey by Leger, 82 per cent of Canadians have found working from home during the pandemic to be a positive experience. An average of 40 per cent would prefer a working mix of a few days at home and a few days in the workplace, and 20 per cent of us would like to continue working from home.
Many factors may cause feelings of stress as you return to the workplace, including having concerns about being exposed to the virus and how you will take care of your personal and family needs while working. You may feel like you are unable to contribute in the same way or feel anxious about adapting to a different workplace, policy or schedule while other family members are simultaneously trying to adapt to new plans—both at work and school. It’s important to acknowledge these stressful situations and take time to renew your routines as we start to return to the workplace.
Here are some tips for managing your mental health as you return to onsite work:
- Ask questions and learn the new policies before you get to the office. If possible, book some time in your calendar to review any new policies or procedures before you return to the workplace so that you can have a sense of what you will need to do. Ask your supervisor questions, understanding that they may have to go away and find the answers; remember we are all experiencing this for the first time.
- Take time. On your first day, try not to jump right into work. Take some time to reacquaint yourself with your office, sit in your chair and take in how it feels to be back in the workspace. You may not have had the opportunity to tidy your workspace before the pandemic was declared, and you may need to take time to tidy up and clean out anything that may not be relevant anymore. Make your space as pleasant as possible. Maybe even add a plant.
- Think about your wardrobe. You may have been sporting leisurewear over the past year, and policies for dress code may have shifted in the virtual environment. Take time to assess your workwear and make sure that your clothes are ready to be worn and support transition to the workplace.
- Take care of your mental fitness. This includes things like exercise, sleep and nutrition. Ensure you are making space to take care of your mental and physical health through the transition back to onsite work. If you think you need more support, be sure to start by contacting your Employee Assistance Program.
- Create a renewed workday routine. Think about every step of the day from the time you wake up, pack masks and hand sanitizer, navigate your commute, have lunch and come home. How will it be different now that you have to go back onsite? How is the routine impacted by family or other obligations? Write down how you plan to navigate your day.
Returning to the office will be a different experience for everyone. Take the time you need to be kind to yourself and remember to give grace to your teammates as we all adjust to the new rules and routines.