Return to Office
It’s finally time to return to the office, after almost two years of working from home. It seems like most of us feel a mix of emotions, so don’t worry if you’re feeling anxious, nervous, and even a little bit scared. It’s okay to feel that way and you’re definitely not alone. As I think about my own journey back, I wanted to share some tips that might make it easier to ease back into work.
First, Address Your Feelings
Regardless of where you are in your career, take some time to address your feelings around work as you prepare to return to office. You should be aware of what you’re experiencing and consider ways to deal with those feelings. My two biggest struggles are self-doubt and burnout.
I’m excited to say that I’m starting a new job and the best part about it is that it is in my field. I’ve been wanting to get into the field ever since I graduated with my degree but I had been doubting myself for a long time. Am I good enough? Do I know what I’m doing? Do I have enough experience? I finally learned to ‘sell’ the work that I have already done. It made me realize that I have the experience but my insecurities of not having it all together made me doubt myself.
PRO TIP: When you’re feeling self-doubt, make a list of three skills you bring to the table and another list of three valuable experiences you have. Even just “willingness to learn” is a strong attribute no matter what the field. If you have that, you already have one very important skill.
I made the choice to leave my last job partly for career growth but also because of burnout. For many of us, we feel like we always have something to prove. So from day one, you go in committed to being the best and going above and beyond. The problem is, you rarely get noticed for doing more and instead you get asked to do even more. Eventually, your flame will burn out and you might feel exhausted, overwhelmed, and overworked. So be mindful that you are your own advocate. When you’re feeling burnout, first, recognize that it’s burnout you’re feeling. One of my big suggestions is to always revisit your job description and go back to the basics. It’s great to innovate and do more than what’s asked of you, but not when it comes at the cost of your health.
PRO TIP: Make a list of three things you can do to address burnout for you.
Is it Time for a New Job?
There’s no better time to ask yourself this question than now as we return to office. And as much as we want these jobs we apply for, we need to be interviewing the organization we’re trying to work with as well. Your mental health matters. Will you be able to survive in this office culture without sacrificing your health? Jobs can drain the life out of you. Do not give them that power. At the end of the day, our jobs are a part of our life – they are not our life. You need to find work-life balance, and fast, especially if you are starting a new job.
Job Factors to Review:
Benefits package – Benefits can be hard to understand, especially if you are just starting out in the work field. Some of the most important things you’ll see with benefits are 1. Paid time off; 2. Insurance; 3. Retirement savings accounts; 4. Life insurance, etc. But also keep in mind job flexibility, company perks, wellness incentives, etc. I recommend reading a benefits package as it relates to your life. For example, if you have kids or plan to have kids soon, the amount of paid time off and a good insurance package might be the most important things to you. Oftentimes jobs will leverage their benefits package to offset the salary they are offering you. It’s up to you to decide if it is worth it for you.
Diversity of staff – The people you work with can make or break your experience at an organization. So as a job is interviewing you, you should mentally interview their staff. Go online and research the team to get an idea of what people’s roles and backgrounds are. Ask questions during your interview process about company culture. Are there a lot of team-based projects? Will you be spending all of your time in the office or in community?
Work schedule – Is the job 100% in office or fully/partially remote? Does this align with your family’s needs and can you get childcare? These are all questions to ask yourself whether you’re considering a new job or analyzing your old one. If nothing else, find out whether or not you’ll have the flexibility to leave work when you need to or to keep one or two days remote.
Ask for expectations – Find out early on what the job expects from you. Even if you’re staying at your old job, the world has changed and likely, so have your responsibilities. Having a set understanding of your job duties will hopefully keep you from overworking. *PRO TIP: Keep a copy of your job description so you’ll always have it to reference back to and grow from.
Tips to Protect Your Health
Take the necessary steps to protect your health. I know we feel bad whenever we do something that feels like it takes us away from work. But we have to reframe our mentality. When you do something for you, it has a positive impact on your health and your overall productivity. Self-care isn’t just key to your personal life, it’s important in your professional life as well. So here are my top tips to keep your sanity as we return to office and beyond:
Take your lunch break!!
I cannot stress this enough. You have a break – so you use it! Take brain breaks during the day; take a walk during lunch. Whatever you do, just disconnect every now and then.
Use your PTO
Take the Paid Time Off. You are literally earning it! PTO is key to keeping yourself healthy, physically and mentally. You can even get creative with it. For example, you can take the Friday off every other week or take a week off once every three months. Just promise yourself you will take the time and have a plan that helps you stick to that promise. Remember, your job is your work; it is not your life.
Communicate your needs, your schedule, your situation, etc. I know it’s hard and uncomfortable to do this, but try to be transparent when things are happening in your life that may cause you to need extra support or understanding. You do not have to share all the details of your life, but things happen. You can simply say “this is a difficult time for me personally and I would appreciate some support (in general or on this project).” That way, at least you’ve documented your struggle.
Don’t overwork yourself
I know we feel the need to do the most but there are consequences to overworking. Keep a list of your goals so you’re reminded of what needs to be accomplished. Focus on that.
Make your space yours
I’m the type of person that likes to feel comfortable in all spaces so I do my best to make my office mine. I even keep necessities in my office and my desk such as a blanket, pads, gum, tennis shoes, etc.
Update your wardrobe
We’ve been wearing sweatpants and pajamas for two years! It’s going to be a hard transition so try to prepare for it. My biggest recommendation is to find clothes that are comfortable while still professional and stock up on those. I recently got five pairs of these Zara pants because they fit me well, they’re comfortable, and they’re still professional. H&M also has some comfortable work pants and tops.
Assess your comfort level with COVID
Don’t feel pressure to be hyper-social. Feel comfortable wearing your mask and social distancing. We are still fighting a pandemic and not everyone’s comfort level or even health status is the same.
Plan how you can maintain work-life balance
Are your kids back in school/daycare during the week? Maybe set some time aside every other weekend to do an activity so you can still spend quality time together.
Set office boundaries
Set those boundaries, especially if you work in a cubicle setting. We’ve gotten used to having our own space with no “chat break” distractions. You can put up a “Do Not Disturb” sign when you need to focus and just communicate that to your coworkers. That way they’ll know, let’s chat later.
Disconnect after work
If your work day is from 8am-5pm then any time after that should be devoted to you and your family. Don’t let work follow you home if it shouldn’t. It will be there in the morning. Find ways to prioritize your most important tasks during the work day so you’re not stressing about them when you get home.
Return to Office: Plan to Succeed
I know this is a scary transition to think about, but it’s here and all we need is a plan. Take everything in bite-sized pieces and just do your best to create solutions for you. This is also the perfect time to find some balance in our lives between work and life, which many of us never had before. Keep yourself and your family as a priority. Kick self-doubt and burnout to the curb! You deserve to be at work, and you deserve to be healthy at work. Good luck!