When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, it sent most office workers scurrying home. What we thought might be a few weeks of working from our bedrooms and dining rooms turned into more than a year. In that time, we’ve brightened our lipstick for Zoom meetings, gotten comfortable in our sweatpants and negotiated quiet, productive hours—or at least minutes—with our families.
Now, vaccination rates are climbing, and employers are eyeing a post-pandemic future that looks different. Some want everyone back in the office every day. Some are staying with all remote work, all the time. And some fall in the middle—they want some people in the office, some of the time.
Whatever your workplace decides, you’ll have to negotiate that transition. Divya Singh, MD, a psychiatrist at Banner Behavioral Health Hospital in Scottsdale, shares some tips on how to thrive in the new normal at work.
Expect some stressors if you return to the workplace
You’ve probably been home for a long time and rebuilding your routines might not be easy. Maybe you don’t feel comfortable taking public transportation yet. Maybe all that in-person time with your co-workers feels like a lot. Maybe your home life crept into your work life and it’s hard to return to the old ways.
You might face some pandemic-related stressors, as well. Do you need to wear a mask all day at work? Have you become accustomed to Zoom, where you can see faces? How can you hold socially distanced meetings?
To ease your return-to-work stress, Dr. Singh recommends that you:
- Talk to your colleagues and supervisors. No one knows your specific situation better than the people who share it. Tell them what’s challenging for you and ask if they’ve shared that problem. They can tell you what has worked for them.
- Know what pandemic precautions are recommended. Your workplace might require masks and social distancing, conduct temperature checks, expect certain cleaning and disinfecting processes to be followed, or have new guidelines for using shared meeting spaces, kitchens and restrooms. Knowing what to expect can make the transition smoother.
Expect some stressors if you continue to work from home
Even if you’ve come up with a good at-home work routine and you’re sticking with it, as the pandemic lifts, you’re likely to see changes. Maybe some of your colleagues return to work, and meetings where everyone is on Zoom shift to conference calls where some people are together in the same room and others are remote. Maybe you work from home, but you venture out to clients’ businesses sometimes. Maybe you need to go into the office occasionally and you don’t have a desk there that’s “yours” anymore.
If you’re working from home, Dr. Singh recommends that you:
- Build in opportunities for social connection, especially if some people are returning to the office. Chat with your coworkers by phone, text or Zoom outside of regular meetings. “That can give everybody a chance to process their stress,” Dr. Singh said.
- Take breaks to interact with your family if they are at home. “Even a few minutes can make a difference,” Dr. Singh said.
- Try to mimic an in-office workday, especially as more people return to work and start keeping more regular working hours. Close down your computer at the end of the workday and shift to “home” time.
Be flexible in these workplace transitions
Dr. Singh points out that something might not be ideal, but it could still be worth trying. “Remember, just because something is not the same as before doesn’t mean it’s zero,” he said. “You might have to improvise—it’s not life as usual.”
He reminds us to practice the healthy lifestyle habits we all know we should follow:
- Eat healthy
- Give yourself down time
- Spend time with your friends and family
“We’re living in a challenging period, and managing stress, whether in-person or virtually, is physically and mentally taxing,” he said. “If we don’t take care of ourselves, at the end of the day we’re not going to be able to function at work or at home.”
The bottom line
As pandemic restrictions are lifting and workplaces are opening, workers have a new transition to navigate. Take steps to make the shift go as smoothly as possible.
And if these tips aren’t working for you, talk to a mental health professional. “Things can escalate fast and exacerbate depression or anxiety. Seek professional help as soon as possible if you need it,” Dr. Singh said.
To connect with a mental health expert who can help you navigate working in the “new normal,” visit bannerhealth.com.
To learn more about navigating work life during the pandemic, read:
- Working from Home: Tips for Staying Productive
- How Dismissing Your Coworkers’ Stress Affects the Entire Office
- Pandemic Breaking Point: Working Moms Are Not Okay