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The Return to the Office

Are you on the Yay, Back to Work! or the Can I Stay at Home team? Whichever team you are on, you will have to deal with returning to the office. A quick advice: At the beginning, be kind and patient to yourself and your colleagues.

Last year brought many changes. After all, the fact that things are different, and life is not going according to plan is one of the areas most frequently addressed by the psychotherapists in our online counseling. Returning to the office is another change that you can’t avoid. Although it may seem like you are returning to a well-established routine, the opposite may be true. Particularly at first. What could help you cope with it?

Unproductive/productive first days

You may not necessarily be living proof of the claim that people are more productive when working from home. Perhaps, you actually have more work due to caring for your school-age children and taking on the impromptu role of the executive chef. If you are hoping for more peace and quiet when working in the office, be ready to change your expectations. Your chatty colleagues will be excited to share what happened in the last six months. You will once again experience the moments when someone taps on your shoulder saying: “Do you have a minute?”

The very first days back in the office will be marked by lower productivity. Accept it, it is OK.

Fatigue is normal

“Do you have a minute? Hi, it has been a while! Good morning, I was hired in October and this is my first day in the office – where can I find IT please?”

Add the noise of the coffee machine, slamming doors, a colleague talking to another colleague who is working from home. There will be many distractions that you have forgotten about in the last few months. Be ready for that. Let’s not forget about the semi-forgotten routine of dropping off kids at the kindergarten or sending them to school and commuting to work by car or public transport.

Do not worry if you are unusually tired in the first days, seemingly for no reason. Do not try to beat it. Take your time and make sure to notice if your fatigue drags on for way too long and becomes frustration, constant anger or anxiety. If that happens, do not hesitate to book an appointment with an expert who will help you to decode what is happening and how to fix it.

But let’s rewind - so, which team are you on? It is possible that hybrid teams combining remote work and working from the office are more than a topic for a newspaper article for you. There is a good chance you have been part of a team like that since the very beginning which means that remote work continues even when most team members go to the office.

What arrangements to make to ensure that all team members are happy regardless of their location?

“It is advisable to find out which conditions people worked in at home, what they found limiting and what helped them improve their effectiveness. It goes without saying that the opinion of their superior is also important. I would recommend being honest and specific and using the information to set up general rules for remote work,” said mediator and lecturer Sandra Fridrichová, a specialist in team cooperation.

The Yay, Back to Work Team

Health first

Follow any rules issued by your company and principles that you learned last year. Not only to protect your own health but also to show respect to your colleagues who are not rushing back to the office because they are afraid of getting infected.

Hi, let’s go have a coffee!

Have you been excited for coffee breaks, smoking breaks, having chats in general? That’s fine. Be perceptive and notice who feels like chatting and who does not. Ask openly whether your colleagues feel like chatting and have time to chat. Look beyond their words. If someone is fidgeting during your discussion or their eyes tend to run back to the screen and keyboard with a simple “I am listening”, postpone your chat until later. Do not feel like people are ignoring you if they are just not in the mood or don’t have time. Everyone will enjoy time spent together if they feel like sharing their experiences.

Do not forget about your colleagues who are not in the office

Part of the team in the office, part of the team working remotely. Hybrid teams will be more and more common. If you happen to be the “commuter”, it may happen that your remote colleagues will miss some information and context that you will share with your colleagues in person. Keep that in mind and communicate as if you were working from home.

Add context to tasks, ask whether your colleagues have enough information and make sure to tell them if you need some more information. If you feel like work suffers due to the distance, talk to your colleagues and superiors. You could, for example, propose that you will all meet in the office on certain days or for specific activities. Typically, this is necessary for various creative tasks or clarification of projects in the early stages.

The Can I Stay at Home Team

Health first (even for this group)

Are you not exactly rushing back to the office because you are afraid of getting infected? That’s fine. Tell your supervisor and possibly your entire team how you feel. If that is not enough to save you from having to go back, make it clear to your colleagues that compliance with sanitary rules is very important to you. Before you do, however, keep in mind that others do not want to harm you with their behavior. They simply see things differently. It is not a reason for not asking them to follow the rules. The right energy and a positive atmosphere will help you reduce negative feelings which would then be reflected in the tone and way you ask for compliance. 

I work better at home

Do you want to work remotely more often than the company allows? If your supervisor is not a fan of this idea, respect their decision. Although it was possible in recent times, your company may prefer to restore the “old rules” and significantly reduce remote work. In addition to the recommendations at the end of the article, consider doing the following:

Propose doing a trial period for both sides to test whether your idea will work. After this period, you will either modify your cooperation or adapt to the company’s rules. No one says that you should not try again later.

Do not push for an immediate change. You want to work from home three days a week, your supervisor insists on one day and your colleagues want to see you two days a week. Be open to compromise, you can reopen the discussion later.

Do not let your colleagues forget about you. Did you manage to negotiate more remote work? Be ready to be unintentionally forgotten by your colleagues who go to the office. You will encounter this when tasks are being assigned and performed, you will miss the context, and references to funny situations from the office will leave you feeling lost. In this case, follow the same rule as during the time when remote work was a necessity. Actively ask for information and talk to others about how they are doing and what is new at home.

The best of both worlds

If your boss and company are open-minded, make the best of it. Right now, you have a unique opportunity to ask for your ideal work set-up. Answer the following questions.

  • What office and remote work set-up is best for you?
  • How will this set-up benefit you and your team?
  • How much and on which days would you like to work from the office and remotely?
  • How can you help your supervisor and colleagues build trust in your proposal?
  • If you were your boss, how would you set up the new cooperation?
  • If your supervisor asks you why you want to work remotely more often than the company allows, what will you tell them?
  • What difficulties are you expecting and how will you handle them?

Once you have answered these questions, talk to your boss whether you could agree on the proposed set-up. Are you saying that it is not even worth a try? In that case, we have two more questions that will help you gather the necessary courage.

  • What is the worst thing that can happen?
  • What is the chance of that happening?

An old office proverb says that respect, empathy and communication are the best policy. These basic rules that help establish a pleasant cooperation have not changed since the times before the pandemic. Follow them when meeting with colleagues in person and when making new arrangements for the way your team will operate. You cannot go wrong with them.

Author: Lenka Mydlová

Photos: Pexels.com

 
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