COVID-19 came upon us like an unexpected storm the experts never saw coming. One week we were going about our lives as normal then suddenly the following week we found ourselves home-schooling and living in isolation. We are living through history. Our grandchildren are likely to ask us what it was like to be live through the pandemic and we will reflect on this period in our lives.
As we are starting to come out of self isolation, we are at the beginning of the end. I’ve had friends comment that during isolation they enjoyed “slowing down”. Pre-isolation we would often comment that we were busy. But do we need to be so busy? Busy shouldn’t necessarily be a badge of honour. This gives us the opportunity to reassess our lives to understand what the “new normal” means for us.
This week my husband has started returning to the office. For the past two months we have been working at home together alternating between the study and kitchen table. It has worked well and I've enjoyed having him around. This week as he was getting dressed in his suit to return back to the office, for me it was a mental change to start our post isolation life. I also met up with friends at the park and we all commented that we felt alive again but socialising and getting out of the house. It was these little steps on realising life and in our “new normal”. Getting back into routine outside our home has changed my mindset. Here are five things that can help you prepare for returning to the office and post isolation.
Reflect on life during isolation
Reflect on isolation and take it as an opportunity to reset. Grab yourself a tea or coffee and pause for a moment to reflect on the journey you have been on the past few months. Have a moment to yourself to sit down and write yourself, these three headings: Stop. Start. Keep.
Personally, self-isolation has given me permission to slow down a little and be less scheduled. I have made more time for exercise during isolation and I want to keep doing this. One of the best things I enjoyed about isolation, was going for family walks and it filled my cup. Reflect on the past few months considering what you have and have not enjoyed and write it down. There is something to say about writing things down and letting go.
Review your flexible work arrangements
Many people have enjoyed working from home, albeit it was flexible work in a crisis. Flexible work has many different facets to it and it's not just about working from home. When renegotiating your flexible work practices, consider both your needs as well as your team/employer ensuring it is a win/win for you both. For example, if you need to be in the office for an 11 am Monday team don’t suggest working from home that day, but if you generally have a meeting-free day on a Wednesday, suggest this day to work from home. Please don’t try and put your routine into place before speaking with your employer. Understand what the non-negotiables are for both sides and how you can make it work for both parties. It is all part of the negotiation. Understand what your requirements are following an initial casual conversation with your boss to sound them out to see what they think might work. Understanding where they are coming from prior to putting in a formal request. It is about finding the middle ground in the arrangement and it is important to remember the arrangement should be reviewed on a regular basis. It is not set in stone forever.
There will be people who experience anxiety about returning to work. Mentally prepare for your return to work can help in managing the anxiety. If you travel to work via public transport, plan how you will get to/from work and mentally go through the trip to work. Understand which parts give you the most anxiety and look at ways to manage this. Consider alternatives such as if there are going to be more people on the train, will this mean you need to change your start and finish times or is there parking available to you.
Routine & schedule
We adjusted quickly to an isolation routine of working from home and now we need to dust off the old plan or discover a new routine. Some people stayed with their normal routine and others have used their commute time in new ways. I enjoyed a slightly slower routine because we didn’t have to get up and do the mad rush in the morning of the commute to work and only had to take our son to childcare.
In relation to the schedule it is also about setting boundaries. If you found that work has encroached on to your life a little bit too much during isolation, make sure you go back to setting those boundaries between work/family/self. Make sure you are carving out some time for your self-care to ‘fill your cup’. Getting back into the daily routine and schedule will take some adjustment. It is the chance to reflect on what has and has not worked and what do you want for your “new normal”.
Understanding the office environment
Understanding the new office environment and set up will be important in managing your mental approach to your work and engaging with others. Don’t be afraid to ask what your company is doing relating to ensuring safe work environments relating to coronavirus. Organizations should have their employees front of mind and communicating with them to ensure they manage any concerns to support the reintegration of employees back into the office environment when deemed suitable by the government. For every organization the model of returning to work is going to be slightly different. Communication with employees and colleagues is key during this phase.
Reflecting before you go back in to understand what are your own expectations of your workplace. Understanding what you need to manage your own expectations and anxiety levels is important when returning to the office. For example, you may need to clean your desk more frequently because that's what makes you feel in control. There are different factors and asking the question to your manager is important to put you at ease. If you're not feeling comfortable in a situation seek clarification to help you manage the transition. If your expectations about turning to the office are not being met, consider solutions to manage this so you have an element of control in your workplace when you return.
So just to recap, the five tips about returning to work are:
1. Reflecting on isolation - what you can do to live your best life
2. Review / renegotiating flexible work and make it work for you.
3. Having a plan across home, work and travel
4. Routine and schedule
5. Office environment
The time in self-isolation has been different for everyone. We have the chance to make changes to our lives that enable our future and to re-define what is important. Good luck and I hope returning to the office goes well for you. I would love to hear your experiences, so feel free to reach out to me via Working Mumma socials.