Life after lockdown: going back to the office

By Kathryn Knights, Management & Leadership Tutor at Professional Academy

How do you feel about going back to the office in a post-lockdown world? Confused, worried and apprehensive? Or maybe you fall on the side of feeling positive, keen and eager to get back to normality? There are many unknowns and challenges ahead, which could derail even the most positive person. However, with a little careful thinking you can make your return to the office as smooth as possible.

When we begin transitioning back to life in the office things are going to look and feel quite different to how they were prior to 23 March. Everyone’s situation will be unique. However, as you approach your return to the office, there are some steps you can take that will give you the best chance of staying happy and healthy in the workplace.

Remote working and finding the right balance

Before we look at how we ‘go back to the office’, let’s consider our experiences of remote working during lockdown.

For those people who have not been furloughed during lockdown, work has carried on but in a remote capacity. Whilst remote working isn’t anything new, lockdown has seen far more people working flexibly than ever before. Employees have successfully demonstrated that they can be both productive and collaborate remotely.

YouGov recently conducted research for The Independent to explore how our approach to remote working has changed during lockdown.

Most people who took part in the YouGov research indicated that they wanted to have the option of working from home in the future. The main driver that most respondents cited for wanting to continue working from home more regularly post-lockdown was the discovery that they had more time in their day due to the absence of a commute. This gave people more time to manage the household and spend time with their family.

This research, along with our own experiences of working remotely raises the question: how might we work in the future?

Moving away completely from office working is probably, I suspect, not the answer. A hybrid model feels more realistic, with employees having an adequate infrastructure to enable them to work from home part of the time and work at the office for the remainder.

Going back to the office

Step 1 - plan and prepare

A little planning and preparation can go a long way towards helping you transition smoothly into the office and avoiding any ‘bumps in the road’.

If your line manager has told you what you can expect when you go back into the office jot down how you feel and raise any concerns you may have. For example, if there will be fewer people in the office on any given day how will you feel about working in a much quieter environment? Will it be more difficult do your job with fewer people around you? Will there be a first aider on hand should one be needed?

If you are unsure what to expect when you go back into the office then set up a call with your line manager to discuss what the plans are. This is particularly important if you have been on furlough as you are likely to feel ‘out of the loop’. This type of conversation will act as a useful return to work conversation. You might even want to chat your thoughts through with a fellow colleague before you meet with your line manager to see if you have missed anything. This will help you feel more confident when you do speak with your line manager.

It’s also important to consider the other aspects of your life that you need to manage alongside your job e.g. family commitments. If your children are not returning to school or only returning part-time, how will you manage this? Jot down your challenges and raise them with your line manager at the earliest opportunity so that you can discuss how to manage them.

This is also the stage at which you will want to consider your remote working options and whether a hybrid model is right for you or not (see above).

Step 2 - take things slowly

Once you go back to the office, bear in mind that things will continue to change over the coming months. That should mean lockdown restrictions being eased but it could mean they get tightened up again. It depends on how the coronavirus outbreak develops.

This constant state of change will mean that we will all need to keep adapting and adjusting. Be kind to yourself and try not to get frustrated. Setbacks and failure are part of making progress. Take comfort from the fact that we are all in this together and that we have a long journey ahead.

Step 3 - review how you are getting on

Lockdown has taught us the importance of looking after our mental health. Schedule some check-ins with yourself to see how well you are coping.

Questions you might reflect on:

  • How am I coping?
  • What’s working and why?
  • What isn’t working and why?
  • What could be improved?
  • What could I do more of?

With the answers to these questions you should arrange a meeting with your line manager to discuss your feelings and propose any new ideas.

Looking to the future

Don’t lose sight of the fact this is an opportunity to improve the way we work, for good. We have been gifted the chance to make things better so that we have a happier, healthier and more productive working environment. This is probably the single best time for you and many others to negotiate conditions that really work for you and your employer. Carpe diem!