Whether you’ve been on maternity leave, on furlough or have simply taken some time off over the past 18 months, these tips should help ease your ‘back-to-work’ worries
After an extended period of time off work, it can be strange to rejoin a team, especially after the pandemic when the world of work was turned upside down. Perhaps you know there’ll be a lot to catch up on. Maybe you’re worried that everyone has moved on without you and you’re not needed any more. And, if you’re starting an entirely new role, there’ll be a whole slew of policies and practices to get to grips with.
However, as hybrid working becomes the new norm, ‘returning to the workplace’ is taking on a whole new meaning. Heading back might mean journeying to the office, working from home or basing yourself at a local flexible workspace – or most likely some combination of all three.
The increased flexibility that comes with the hybrid approach might make it easier than you think to transition back into work life. In IWG’s white paper ‘Hybrid world: sustainable world’, it was found that the new model is much more conducive to human needs – whether it’s less time commuting, the ability for parents to care for their children without compromising their careers, or more opportunities to be around colleagues.
According to a survey of 12,000 professionals in the US, Germany and India by Boston Consulting Group (May-June 2020), during lockdown professionals most missed the connectivity they had with colleagues in the office, especially “being able to spontaneously walk to a coworker’s desk and discuss an issue” and “social gatherings at work”.
Whatever kind of work you’ll be doing most of, these tips should help to ease any concerns you have about pain on re-entry.
1. Restructure your week
With flexibility now the norm, discuss where and when you are going to be working, and whether you want more or less time in a dedicated workplace.
For some people, getting out of the house on a daily basis will be important, while for others, being able to work some of the time at home (or in the evenings) will be key. Working part-time may also help with the transition.
Consider spending some of your working week at a local flexible workspace if you can. This will keep your commute to a minimum, but will also help you demarcate ‘work’ and ‘you’ time, ensuring that domestic distractions don’t hit your productivity and minimising the likelihood that work stresses will affect your evenings and weekends.
2. Prioritise in-person meetings
Whatever it is you have been doing while everyone else has been Zooming, make sure you organise lots of in-person meetings with colleagues, clients and business acquaintances to catch up on news and rebuild relationships. It’s important to use your time in the office to build key relationships, and do creative/ collaborative work (you can bury your head in that spreadsheet when working alone).
Arranging a rendezvous in a coworking space can be a great way of achieving this: it makes a nice change of scene from being at home or in the office, and – if you choose a flexspace that’s close to a particular network of teammates – can be more convenient, too.
3. Bring cake
It can be hard to make a splash with your return if it’s only via video call, so bring cake next time you have a big team meeting. It may sound simple, but you’ll immediately be the star of the show again. People will remember the gesture and it’s a great way to mark the occasion. It’s also good to make an announcement on social media, via email and on relevant trade channels so your peers in the wider industry know you’re back.
4. Get briefed
Since you have been away, there is a good chance that your company has adopted new ways of working during the pandemic. Maybe it has downsized the office or got rid of it altogether, and is now encouraging staff to work from flexspaces closer to home. It might also be using new collaboration and workflow platforms such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, Google Chat or Trello. Make sure you’re thoroughly briefed on what’s changed, and be sure to get all the support you need with understanding how to use new software.
5. Catch-up with contacts
While it might feel as if you have been away for ages and your personal life has undergone a lot of changes (especially if you have taken time off to look after a baby), others might not have felt the passage of time in the same way. It’s often the case that they might think you have only been away for a month or two, when in actual fact it’s been much longer. Go for coffee or after-work drinks and tell people what you have been up to.
6. Be proactive
Sometimes there is a sense that you need to prove yourself again after time away so, instead of letting self-doubt enter your consciousness, be proactive and make your thoughts and ideas known. Don’t hold back. Feel free to ask questions, and be open-minded to new ways of doing things that might have been introduced in your absence.
In fact, hybrid working can be good for people who are feeling shy or introverted because Slack channel discussions, for example, are less intimidating than big face-to-face meetings, and speaking on a Zoom call isn’t as scary as standing up in front of a room full of people. For a returner who’s a bit nervous, getting your voice heard virtually is less stressful than doing it IRL.
7. Socialise together
Socialising either during or after-hours is a great way to be reintegrated back into a team – even if you can’t all go for lunch because your teammates are working in different locations, sharing a meal with a handful of colleagues based nearby will help you regain your confidence. What’s more, the good thing about coworking hubs is that there is usually a roster of events taking place each week, so signing up is a good way to bond.
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