Nervous about leaving remote work behind? We’ve got you covered.
After more than a year, working from home has become the norm for many. Now that vaccinations are being administered to all eligible recipients, businesses across the country are contemplating – or have already started – a transition back to the workplace. It’s not surprising that people are apprehensive about the adjustment. We consulted Tina Griffith, licensed professional counselor at ThedaCare Behavioral Health-Oshkosh to understand how we can ease back into a traditional workspace after so much time away.
1. Set Boundaries
“People are telling me they are nervous about many things,” said Griffith. “For example, some people who live alone have adjusted to the quiet of their home and now worry about distractions and being around co-workers once again. It’s going to be very important that employees support one another and be understanding of the needs of others.”
Just as it is good to set healthy boundaries with family and friends about the activities we are comfortable with regarding COVID-19 concerns, it’s important to convey those boundaries to our co-workers politely, too.
“After a year away, some people may want to hug others when they finally see them again, and some may not be comfortable being hugged, even if everyone is vaccinated,” she said. “And it is okay to say, ‘I’m not ready for that yet.’”
2. Allow Time to Prepare
Relieve anxiety about returning to the workplace by preparing appropriately for the change and giving yourself something to look forward to.
“Expose yourself to the workplace experience slowly,” she said. “Maybe stop in for a visit before you are officially required to return. If you haven’t driven to work in a year, drive your usual route to see if there are changes in traffic patterns and your commute time. Look around your workspace; are there changes you’d like to make? This year away may have inspired you to become more organized, or to have more decorations and color.
Communication is key. Be open with your supervisor about what you need to make the transition easier, while still recognizing the company needs to be profitable.
“Perhaps you want to go back a few days a week at first until you adjust,” said Griffith. “We’ve all been through a collective trauma, we’ve all been affected; even those who aren’t voicing any issues. That’s why it’s important we listen and communicate our needs to one another.”
4. Understand Company Requirements
Will masks be required at your workplace? Do you prefer wearing a mask, even when you are fully vaccinated?
“If you prefer to wear a mask, there shouldn’t be a rule against doing so,” Griffith said. “If masks aren’t required, you will have to accept that others may not wear a mask; they, too, have a right to their choices. Having a fear of being infected with COVID-19 is a real and valid concern for many, and that fear should be acknowledged with respect.”
For those who have been working from home and haven’t needed to wear a mask while working, adjusting to wearing a mask full time may be challenging. She recommended speaking with management to understand if there is an area in the workplace you can go for a break to remove your mask.
Knowing who is vaccinated and who is not may be another concern for many, Griffith noted.
“People do not have to reveal their vaccination status; that would violate HIPAA regulations (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996),” she explained. “Unless a company mandates that people be vaccinated, co-workers may keep that information private.”
5. Maintain Balance
“Returning to the workplace is another time when it will be important for each of us to control the things we can in our lives and take whatever steps needed to keep ourselves healthy,” she said. “If vaccination isn’t mandated at your workplace, then wearing a mask and following recommended COVID-19 protocols – hand washing and social distancing – will be the way to control your environment.”
Staying mentally balanced will be important as well.
“This is another time when practicing mindfulness and gratitude will help our mental health,” she said. “Even just one to two minutes a day of focusing on observing an object or your breath can be beneficial. Try this before or after your workday or before going into a meeting. Practice keeping your mind in the present moment.”
Griffith suggested for all of us to be patient with one another.
“Practicing good self-care, setting healthy boundaries, communicating them politely to co-workers and keeping our minds balanced will be key to having a smoother transition back to the workplace,” she said. “It is normal for us to be concerned or slightly uncomfortable in new situations. Remember it is important to focus on what we can control. It will take some work and patience individually and collectively to promote a healthy return for all.”
If you are struggling to make the transition to in-person work, our behavioral health specialists can help. Find a provider near you, and call (920) 720-2300 to make an appointment.