We’d like to think we’re in a post-pandemic society, but COVID-19 continues to spread, infect, and harm people every single day. The general consensus of the US government seems to be that the show must go on, and even companies that have held out for two years have decided it’s time to come back to the office and act normal.
Like if we don’t move, COVID can’t see us.
While some workplaces shifted to indefinite work from home positions once they realized it was a benefit that worked with minimal setbacks (indeed, telecommuters report higher job satisfaction, more productivity, and many other improved outcomes), others seem to just really want people back in the office even though we’re still in the middle of a global pandemic.
Spoilers: I think any and all positions that CAN work from home SHOULD work from home, because forcing people into close quarters just for the sake of face time and timing their bathroom breaks is preposterous.
However, there are some benefits to being in the office. Camaraderie and culture do benefit from in-person interaction, and sometimes communication does benefit from being able to read tone and body language that you can’t communicate over a Skype DM.
We’re in the midst of The Great Resignation, as resignation rates reached record numbers in April 2021. Many employees leaving their jobs did so due to the pandemic and shifting of priorities in the face of corporate America’s treatment of workers.
“There have been a lot of epiphanies and reckonings that have occurred during the time with respect with how we’re prioritizing ultimately our values, and of course how work fits into that,” said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate.
But what about those workers who aren’t leaving their jobs, and who are faced with a return to the office?
Return to office tips from a work perspective
Some things need to be handled logistically as you approach your return to the office.
1) Talk to your manager about your plans for returning to work. If you are able to, negotiate for a hybrid arrangement with some days working from home. If you have medical needs that impact your negotiations, be sure to bring a copy of a doctor’s note if needed.
2) Decide on your PPE boundaries. Regardless of your company’s masking or social distancing requirements, decide on your own boundaries and limits in this area. You can ask that people wear a mask if they need to speak to you in person, wear masks during meetings, etc.
3) Know your company’s sick time policy and take full advantage of it if you feel unwell.
4) Use your privilege. If you’re well established and valued at the company, use that value and position to stand up for others who don’t have that security.
Return to office tips from a family perspective
This is a huge transition for your household, especially if you have children who have been used to two years of their parent(s) being home all day. This shift in schedule might even impact your pets and cause some anxiety for them too.
1) Communicate the new changes in routine to your family. This could mean rehashing meal prep duties depending on who is home first in the evenings, talking to your kids about after school routines and childcare, and checking in with everyone to talk through their fears and anxieties.
2) Leave the house for a little while each day. This can help you prepare your pets for your absence for longer periods of time than they’re used to. You might also want to refresh your dogs on crate training if you’ve gotten lax being used to always being home.
3) Plan for a transition period. Tensions will be high as you and your family get into this new routine, and it might be frustrating. Make a plan in advance for how you’ll handle kid stress (and your own stress!)
Return to office tips from a personal perspective
You’ve probably gotten really comfortable in the last two years taking conference calls in your jammies and being able to sleep in instead of commute. I love that for you (and for me, I’m never going back to office life), but you might be panicking at the thought of having to go back to putting yourself together every morning before you’re even awake, just to look nice for your coworkers.
You really, really don’t have to do all that.
1) Decide your new non-negotiables. If you don’t want to put on makeup, don’t. If you realized the magic of leggings and tunics instead of work pants, keep living that comfy life. You don’t have to get a haircut every four weeks, or rock a gel manicure, or wear a tie. Keep living as close to your best cozy life as possible. They are honored to have you in that office, you don’t owe them a thing.
2) Assess your wardrobe. If you hate your old work clothes, pick up a few new staples that feel comfortable and are still work appropriate for your company. If you’ve changed sizes, that is okay. I promise. The last thing you need during this transition is to be down on yourself about your butt changing shape. You have a great butt — the only thing it requires is to go sit in an office chair.
If you have good quality work clothes you no longer want, donate them to a DV shelter, Dream Center, or other charitable organization that helps people change their lives.
3) Make space for feelings. Just like your dog and your kiddos, you’re going to have some big feelings about this too. Let yourself feel angry, or sad, or anything you need. You’re still a rockstar. Rockstars have feelings.
One final return to office tip
If you really cannot stand the idea of going back… don’t. Or don’t forever. You can look for a new job if that feels right for you. This isn’t just about employment, it’s also about your safety and comfort level depending on your individual needs. This is a huge privilege, but if you can take the chance, I encourage it.
Creativity Under Capitalism
If you’re struggling with the pressures to return to “business as usual,” you might enjoy my free mini course, Creativity Under Capitalism. It’s all about how our current systems keep us too burned out to enjoy our passions — and it will help you unpack that hustle mentality to embrace your dreams for real.