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Coming back from WFH: how to step forward, not back

A first aid kit for personal recovery from the lockdown

After six-plus weeks of working from home, many of us are now excitedly preparing to move back into our offices in the next week or so. However, with that news comes a second wave of adjustment.

We fought so hard to adapt quickly to our new normal of remote working, but those gains now seem like they have to be switched off or turned back. Or do they?

Whether you’re looking forward to being back at your desk or dreading the move, there are things you can do to ensure you’re bringing the positive aspects of your experience along with you.

Here’s our first aid kit for personal recovery from the lockdown. It is your guide to integrating the positive, the negative, and the surprising learnings from your WFH experience into your new normal going forward.

We’ve selected five key areas where working life has changed. How are you adapting to each of these?

1. Communication

One of the biggest adaptations we’ve made over the last few weeks has been in how we communicate both professionally and socially.

Where before we took it for granted, we’ve now realised the value of consciously checking in with each member of our team throughout the working day/week. When we return to office life, it’s important to keep this conscious intent in your mind. 

It’ll be too easy to rush back into how things were before, and lose the connections that were built through this period. Take the time to schedule in team social events, and reminders to check in with your colleagues – just like when we went into lockdown, some people may find the re-adapting process harder than others, and could appreciate you reaching out.

We’ve also been granted a real insight into our teammates lives through seeing them over Zoom in their home environments, with family or pets. These glimpses have allowed us to see beyond the professional face they bring to work, and gain a richer understanding of who we’re working alongside day to day. We’ve shared the challenge of adapting to WFH together, and allowed ourselves to be vulnerable in our connections.

Remember this when you return to work, to support each other with compassion and understanding. Some people may experience a degree of homesickness as we adjust to being away again – make an effort to connect openly with one another, and keep alive that new-found vulnerability that made us so strong in lockdown. 

2. Wellbeing

Anyone who hadn’t made the connection between wellbeing and work quality before the lockdown, almost certainly has now. With our working lives being forced into our home space, many were compelled to create healthy boundaries on their own and make an effort toward maintaining their personal wellbeing across both.

That extra time in the morning and evening we’d usually spend commuting, may have now been used for extra sleep, exercise, or quality family time. For some, the thought of returning to the office means losing this opportunity for self-care.

For others, home has not been a place of rest or relaxation. Along with the challenges of the pandemic, many have faced conflict with their bubble-mates or the immense task of homeschooling their children. Returning to the office may look like a return to sanity.

Be aware that not everyone in your team will have had the same experience throughout the lockdown, or have been able to create boundaries and self-care routines from home.

Those that have may struggle to reintegrate, and need to create new routines that work with their office hours and commuting requirements.

In your first week of returning to the office, schedule a team wellbeing meeting to discuss how you can support each other’s needs and practices in your new normal. You can also share your personal wellbeing practices or resources, which others may find useful for their own needs.

Businesses may be more open than before to working from home options, so don’t be afraid to ask for some flexibility in order to maintain or achieve the wellbeing goals you require to work.

3. Productivity

Many people have found that their productivity levels have dropped since working from home – the combination of pandemic-anxiety, distractions in the form of netflix and food, and the lack of a proper workspace have all led to a drop in output for many.

On the contrary, some people have found they’ve been even more productive from home – without the distraction of coworkers popping by for a chat, meetings that drag on and miss the point, or environmental stresses such as loud ambient noise, they’ve been able to focus on the task at hand and get it done.

Wherever you are on the productivity-at-home spectrum, you now need to look at ways to bring the useful parts of what you’ve learned back into the office with you.

Personally, I’m on the less-productive-at-home end of the spectrum, but I’ve found it to be a welcome relief. I’m a high achiever and obsessed with being hyper productive, so with realising that I’m less productive without a proper workstation, I’ve also been able to accept being less productive as okay, and reduce the stress and pressure I put on myself to succeed.

Before going back into the office, reflect on what has helped or hindered your productivity, whether it’s been in a good or bad direction, and what elements of that you can keep up.

I’ll be trying to maintain a sane-level workload, and seeking out quiet spaces for an hour or two of deep focus time per day, as I found useful at home.

4. Environment

Our world has had a breather while we’ve all been at home. With fewer cars on the road, air pollution has plummeted – is there anything we can do to keep it that way?

Obviously, many people don’t have the luxury of working from home. Already in Level 3 traffic resumed as people began travelling to and from their jobs again.

But for those of us who can, perhaps this is a chance to make a positive impact on our earth by continuing working from home. Ask your manager or discuss as a team if there is a way to either work remotely or with flexible hours going forward, even if this is just one or two days per week.

If you must return to your office full time, consider bringing in some house plants, shifting your desk to be by a window, or making other changes to your workspace that allow you to maximise your connection with nature while bringing life into the office.

Desk plants have even been shown to increase happiness in office-workers, and could be just what you need to help the transition. 

5. Isolation

It’s been a long six weeks for some. With an abundance of time alone, faced with a global crisis, many of us have turned inwards to reconnect with ourselves and what’s important in our lives.

You may have discovered a new passion, or returned to an old dream that you now want to fulfil. You may have realised you can offer more at your work, and want to progress up the ranks. You may have realised that what’s most important is the quality time you have with loved ones, and as long as you can securely provide that’s all that matters.

Don’t let these realisations and discoveries get sidelined by a busy day to day once you return to the office. Take the time to be grateful for the opportunity we’ve all had, to reflect on the new things we’ve learned, and to set your intentions for the rest of 2020 (or at least the rest of the quarter).

Some of us may come back changed, and that’s normal. Be patient with yourself and others as you adjust to the new normal, and integrate all that we’ve been through into our lives going forward.

Take the time to reflect, pause, and smile before you step back into the flow again.

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