Tuesday, October 5, 2021

5 Tips for Your Return to the Office or Classroom

 If you feel reluctant or anxious to return to your office or classroom, here are five tips for building a successful plan for returning to the office or back to the classroom that can help reduce stress and fear and adapt to it as quickly as possible.

Return to Office
A man feeling stressed at the office 

5 Effective Tips for Your Return to The Office or Classroom

While more and more people are receiving their second dose of vaccination, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are still being felt. Learning from home became a crucial aspect for students across the world, where possible, but the long-lasting impact of this will be uncertain for many years. Just like our students faced their normal, everyday routines flipped upside down, so did countless professionals, including teachers. While the struggles that students have faced from remote learning and the larger repercussions of the pandemic are being explored and navigated to improve their experience going forward, in my research for this article I found that these same struggles felt among teachers and working professionals are largely underrepresented, outside some resistance from returning to the office full-time. 

It can be daunting returning to work after such a long period of remote work and separation from your colleagues. In this guide, we will explore some steps to take and things to think about that should make this return more manageable, and what steps you can take to ensure your well-being in the workplace. 


  1. Talk to your employers about the plan.

There are a lot of moving parts with any return-to-work plan, and it is understandable if you are unsure of the plan. One of the largest sources of anxiety among returning to the office is uncertainty about going forward. According to Kate Sweeny, professor of psychology at the University of California, planning ahead helps combat anxieties by gaining control over the uncertainties of the future.

In the post-COVID-19 world, there may significant challenges that will impact you and your co-workers. From mandates regarding workplace health and safety, to accommodations required for the wellbeing of your co-workers and those in close proximity to you, there will likely be changes in your working day-to-day. Ensuring what the plan looks like is an important step to ensure everyone is on the same page. Is everyone coming back to the office? What protocols or precautions are going to be put in place to ensure the safety of the workforce? Knowing what to expect when returning to work can ease a lot of stress related to these uncertainties.


  1. Focus on your health (still)

Many were hyper-aware of their health during the pandemic, regularly questioning how they felt, and taking steps to ensure the healthiness of themselves and their families. With a return to the workplace on the horizon, there is still the need to make health-centered choices.  

While the vaccine is a very strong measure against contracting the disease, we still need to be diligent in the wake of this pandemic. Covid-19 is not eradicated, and we do not fully know the extent that new variants are resisted by the vaccines. For teachers, you may need to consider that the younger population is not currently vaccinated, as vaccines are not currently approved for the under twelve group, and whether that will change by the time school starts in the fall is unforeseen. Otherwise, you need to consider that you will likely be in close contact with co-workers who have children too. 

While some places are removing mask mandates, for many, masks can instill a further sense of security. Good health practices like continuously washing hands and taking a sick day when you are feeling unwell should remain in our general health repertoire. 

The return for many might take a toll on one’s mental health as well. You should try to engage in active self-care while possible at work.  It can be hard, but finding ways to get in some mindfulness during the day like bringing a yoga mat to work for some mid-day stretches or listening to music can improve your mood in your first few weeks back.

 

  1. Respect the decisions and struggles of your colleagues. 

The pandemic affected everybody, but it impacted people unevenly. Particularly, working-class and BIPOC were disproportionately impacted. For some, the pandemic was an inconvenience; for others, the pandemic has been a traumatic experience.

It is important that when rejoining others in the office that we practice tact and care in how we speak about the pandemic. While the pandemic has been highly politicized, the workplace should be free of this divisiveness, which can invalidate the very real issues that people have had to deal with over the past year and a half.

We need to be respectful of others on the return to the office, and understand that we have the freedom to make our own choices away from work, but we have to follow our employer’s standards when at the workplace. 

Mindfulness should also be taken to the issue of social anxiety among yourself and your colleagues. According to the University of California assistant professor Kalina Michalska, “…the absence of the social interaction that our brain expects… can lead to increased risk of cognitive decline, as well as mental health consequences like depression”. She encourages you to be kind to yourself and the others around you, as it is perfectly normal to experience anxiety in a situation like the one we find ourselves in now. 


  1. Understanding the development slide

Educators have noticed uneven development between different students over periods of interruption from learning. As people have had uneven experiences studying and learning from home, not every student has had the same development. While learning and personal growth are essential during one’s formative years as a student, development never ends and is non-linear. Consider this extends to everyone. In moments of pressure, “regression is one of the mind’s ways to defend itself from confusion and insecurity”.

Especially when working from home in such stressful times, it can be expected workers have had uneven development and progress to their work goals. Some have found the working from home experience has been a really fulfilling change and have excelled from working from home. However, some workers have struggled. Not everyone has felt working from home is best for their productivity or mental health.

The number of changes that workers have had to acclimate to over the past year and a half becomes intensely difficult on a workforce that already needs a dynamically shifting skillset. Gartner HR Research found that modern jobs tend to require growth of individual skills at a rate of 10% per year, but with established ways of skill learning pushed to the limits of the COVID-19 pandemic, being understanding of struggles between learning towards any new skills, or redeveloping “old” skills, is important.

Assuming everyone is on the same professional level with their work, or that they were at the same level when they left the office, does a disservice for those who have struggled throughout the pandemic, both at the computer and away from it.


  1. Understand that things have changed

COVID-19 changed the world, and it is likely we have not fully seen the socio-economic impact the pandemic has had on the world. What has been noted is that the pandemic has shifted how many saw the world, and what we thought was possible in our lifetimes. Globally, millions of people lost their jobs, millions lost their lives, and the impact of this alone will live with many of us. 

The pandemic has marked a significant change in how we view work. In a survey by Harvard Business School Online, over 81% of people oppose the idea of working from the office full time, favoring hybrid models at 61%. What was seen as not possible in many fields has drastically altered, and people want a lifestyle that suits them – especially if they know it is possible now.

From our classrooms to office cubicles, the pandemic has changed a lot. Returning to a pre-pandemic state might not be possible but shifting to a new normal is what we should be looking for.   

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