As we approach the two-year mark of the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more businesses are asking employees to return to the office. This is understandably causing anxiety in many workers who have not only adjusted to the remote working model, but come to strongly prefer it. The idea of navigating a commute and childcare has many people dreading the return, while others who found remote work difficult are eager to get back. But one thing all these people have in common is a bit of culture shock awaiting them when they do return back to the office post-pandemic. Here’s our list of tips on how to prepare for it, and minimize its effect on you.

Back To The Office Post-Pandemic: Where Do I Start?

Plan ahead. It may sound trite, but one of the best ways you can truly get ready for your return to work is to plan your day as specifically as possible. What time will you get up, what does your normal get-ready routine look like, what will you have to do for your partner, kids, or pets before you leave? What will you do for lunch, and what train or bus will you need to catch?

Once you’ve written down your tasks, figure out how long it takes to do them all, and plan backwards from the time you need to leave the house to figure out what time you need to wake up. Then, check yourself to make sure there’s nothing you’re leaving to chance. Does your bus still come at the same time, is your parking pass up to date? If you’ll need to get your temperature checked or show your vaccine card to someone when you come into the building, you’ll want to leave extra time for that. You can’t plan for everything, but

Rest up. If you worked in your office for any length of time before quarantine began, your mind will expect going back to the office post-pandemic to feel familiar, thanks to the ways in which our brains adapt to allow us to perform our daily routines with minimal mental effort. This unfortunately means that the shakeup of those routines will necessitate more mental effort than we’re used to putting out.

Your first few weeks back at the office are going to tire you out, so it’ll be more important than ever to make time to rest. Talk to your partner or roommate about how your schedule is going to change, and how you anticipate that affecting the things you normally take care of around the house. And be gentle with yourself— if all you have the energy for at the end of the day is heating up leftovers and going to bed, that’s okay.

Monitor your state of mind. Nothing is the same as it was before, and everyone’s feeling the strain, whether they’re showing it or not. It can be easy to look at coworkers who don’t appear to be suffering and think that means you should be okay too, but keeping an eye on your anxiety and stress levels is key to a smooth transition. Your company will have safety protocols and remote work policies in place, and those may change as CDC recommendations, new virus variants, and other factors come into play.

Advocate for yourself. Knowing where you’re at is key to knowing what you need, but you won’t get what you need if you don’t ask for it. Finding a respectful and honest way to draw boundaries and advocate for your needs is essential to adapting to working in the office again. Whether you’re dealing with childcare or school logistics, a family member with compromised health, or anything else that puts demands on your time and attention, you have the right to ask for the flexibility to meet those demands.

Meet with your boss or with HR, or both, and explain what you need— and, if possible, offer one or two options of how you imagine it working out. Coming prepared with a solutions mindset will show your company that you value your position there, and remind them that if they also value you as an employee, they’ll be flexible in helping you get what you need.

Out with the old. Whether it’s a desiccated house plant or a stack of files that’s been gathering dust, everyone’s office spaces contain evidence of the way things were pre-COVID. One thing that can help you get yourself in the right mindset to be back in the office is to clean house. Toss the plants, clean out the files, move your workstation around, bring in some photos or action figures to personalize the space. Pretend it’s your first day at a new job— because in many ways, it is.

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