That thought bubble ‘returning to the office’ pops up, and a thousand worrisome considerations rush through my mind. Questions such as: Will I be safe travelling on public transport? Am I not only risking my own health, but the health of my colleagues, just by turning up in person? Is our ‘COVID-19 Safe Plan’ as well considered as its title suggests? And on those thoughts loop in my overwrought mind…
These questions are not unique to me, my co-workers or our contingent workforce. They are also front of mind for many Melbournians who are being gently coaxed or otherwise cajoled to return to their physical office spaces. Some employers are well prepared, having had staff off-site for close to two years, while others are still scrambling to work out the best way to ease employees back into offices. Whether traditional offices will even be required, now that remote and hybrid working is well established thanks to multiple lockdowns, is also a valid question.
Step 1: It’s psychological
The return-to-work dilemma may seem, at the outset, a genuine physiological concern. However, I’m willing to stand up and say the issue isn’t partly physiological; it’s in fact completely psychological.
A logical person would say: I trusted science enough to receive my full vaccination, countless peer reviewed studies show the positive effectives of vaccinations, their protection can almost certainly keep most generally healthy adults out of ICU or from experiencing severe symptoms.
Therefore, it is logical that returning to an environment where the risk of contracting COVID-19 may be only slightly higher than in your own home is not enough to harbour serious fears.
Step 2: Start with baby steps
Looking at the psychology of how we form habits, we corporate types need to recreate the daily habits and routines that we were accustomed to prior to the pandemic. Hence the ‘baby steps’ approach that some businesses have adopted.
Start with one day, a week, then two, then three and so on. On the days that you are not in the office, try to follow the same habits anyway; those morning routine keeps our minds prepared to physically go into the office and accept that process – remember when they told us that at the start of the pandemic? It’s also great to schedule work with colleagues and arrange days where you can be in the office at the same time to support each other as you readapt to the ‘old normal’.
Step 3: It’s a matter of consistency – every day will become easier.
Many of us have experienced anxiety for the first time as a result of the pandemic. Being amongst others again can be overwhelming after months of relative solitude. For some, the very idea of stepping foot on a crowded train may deter you from even attempting to step outside your front door. If that sounds like you, you’re not alone. Most organisations have Employee Assistance or other support programs (EAP) which can help you find your own path back to normality. Beyond Blue has a number of useful articles and provides live one-on-one counselling to help support your mental health journey back into the office (links to resources below).
I believe it is healthy for us all to return to our workplaces at our own pace. Life is full of risks and COVID-19 is another in the long list we live with every day. I’m looking forward to a bit of banter with my colleagues when we all return to the office. I’m excited about meeting clients in person, visiting the organisations we work with on-site and interviewing candidates face-to-face, instead of via Zoom.
What are you most looking forward to when restrictions ease in your city?
Think Mental Health
Returning to your workplace