Dreading a return to the office? Here are some tips that can help you through it

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She walks into the office. She feels her stomach sink.

She thinks, “Will I be able to be my old self again? The confident leader. That person providing empathy and helpful advice to the woman crying in the bathroom. Will I be at ease at work social situations once again? Will people notice that I am not the same person as I was? Will I pull away from someone who wants to hug me? Will I instinctively go to hug a colleague who will pull away, feeling violated or disrespected?”

Now she’s shaking, and her heart is racing.

It could be your colleague. It could be your team member. It could be you.

Many people are now returning to an office environment for the first time in two years. How do you transition yourself to a new office norm? The office will never be the same as it was before.

Here are some practical techniques to get yourself ready for the struggle of returning to the office.

Grieve the old way

The first thing is to recognise that things will not return to the way they were before. It will require a grieving process.

Action: write down all the things you loved about the office before working at home. Visualise how this may no longer be the case and let yourself feel sad or angry about that. It will help you to go through the emotions in advance. When you go into the office, you will not be surprised that things have changed.

Energise yourself through purpose

Be deliberate about how you show up in the office. It could be a fresh start; an opportunity to demonstrate how you have grown as a leader. Or to bring all that you have learned from working from home into the office.

Action: make a list of the new skills you developed or learned about yourself while working from home and how you can use this in the office environment.

Be brave

You may still be feeling uneasy or fearful about returning to the office. If you’re leading a team of people, they may be feeling the same way. They will be looking to you for support. You’ll need to step into the discomfort anyway to provide calm and certainty.

Action: reflect on the ways that you have built courage before. Remind yourself of all the times you did something for the first time. Because it’s not the first time you have gone into the office, but it’s the first time you have returned to the office after a pandemic. Recognising this is a “first time” and how you usually manage those new situations. It will help you consciously calm and mentally prepare yourself.

When it’s finally time to step into the office, there will be many people around you are experiencing a range of emotions. There will be people who don’t want to be there; and others that couldn’t wait to get back. Some people will expect things to return to the way things were before; and others who know things have drastically changed. There will be personal stories of loss, anxiety, and even joy. If you’re a manager, this means your role to bring the team back together with the variety of situations, emotions, and expectations will be challenging.

Three things you can implement:

  1. Compassion: meet with each of your team members and find out how they’re feeling. Ask them about their perspective of returning to the office and what support they need. Have open conversations about the feelings and expectations of each of your team members;
  2. Collaborate: bring the team together with the common themes and expectations. Co-create a shared vision of the way forward that respects the different perspectives of your team members and yourself. There may be some conflict but create space for an open dialogue and set the scene of what’s ok and what’s not; and
  3. Connect: find common ground and connect with others — human to human. Encourage your team members to re-connect with one another. For some, it may be the first time they’ve met in person. Where there’s been conflict online, there’s an opportunity to connect face to face, on a human level. You could offer a team event to bond again and reset the new office norm.


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1 month ago

Great article! I love the list of new skills and call to be brave. We can do it! Thanks you for inspiring me.

Last edited 1 month ago by Rosie
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