Many of us think about Back to School at this time of year, but this year a lot of us are also going Back to Work — heading to a workplace after working remotely or perhaps taking some time off. During the pandemic, millions of Americans worked from home — but more than a million workers lost their jobs because of business shut downs. Many workers had to quit their jobs or reduce their hours to take care of children when the pandemic shut down schools, too.
Now people are being called back to work as businesses and schools reopen. For some, that means a big change in their lives: commuting to a workplace every day after staying at home for a year or more.
Is it back to normal?
A Pew Research Center survey of people whose jobs can be done from home found that 71% of these individuals worked remotely all or most of the time in 2020. More than half say they’d like to continue doing so. And the International Labor Office predicts that just about half of workers will be back in workplaces full time by the end of the year.
If you’re heading back to work, you may still be worried about the coronavirus. You might find that your job duties have changed or that your workplace looks different. These challenges can make the back to work transition stressful.
Even if you’re ready to get back to work and your job is ready for you, the shift from flexible hours at home to a structured work environment may feel a lot like the first week of school after a long summer break.
How can you make the transition easier?
Start the routine ahead of time
Getting kids up in time to catch the school bus can be a major effort when school start up again. Setting alarms for a couple of weeks before school starts makes easier. Do the same for yourself. Figure out when you will need to wake up in order to get to work without rushing, and set your alarm for that time a couple of weeks before your start date.
During those two weeks, your family can enjoy breakfast together and then get back to summer fun. But think about adding in everything that will be part of your regular workday routine. Do you plan to eat breakfast, clear up the kitchen, exercise, and pack a lunch before you leave on your commute? Go ahead and do those things in your practice weeks.
You may not have been putting on your shoes or shaving every morning, but if you want to do those things before heading to work, fit them in while you practice.
Build in some rewards
Do you pack especially scrumptious lunches for your kids in the first week of school? Count yourself in, too. Do your kids get special pencils for back to school? Maybe you need some fancy office supplies, too.
Make some exciting plans for the weekend after you start — or just plan to let yourself sleep in. The rewards don’t have to be big. You can schedule some time to visit with coworkers, a coffee break, or a favorite work-related task.
Cut yourself some slack
A lot of people are excited about being around people again. Workers say they look forward to having conversations with colleagues again. At the same time, many are nervous about those interactions.
If you feel that way it may help to set small goals for your first days back at work. Plan to join a meeting in person instead of on Zoom, but don’t push yourself to speak up the first day. Allow yourself to get back to peak performance gradually.
Make a deal with yourself not to focus on what went wrong when you get home from work. If there were missteps or things didn’t go to plan, shake it off before you get home and close the door on thoughts about work.
Use your commute
Commuting can be stressful. If you’ve been able to skip the commute, be prepared to find it challenging when you get back to it.
If you can walk or bike to work, do. Research shows that an active commute of this kind can be very positive for wellbeing.
A drive to work can provide an opportunity to listen to a podcast or recorded book, to enjoy music, or just to have a quiet think. Do anything you need to do to tee up a positive experience on your way to work.
Your commute home can give you time to unwind between work and home. Again, planning ahead can make that happen. Focus on the evening ahead of you, connecting with your friends and family, or getting some “me” time, rather than ruminating about your day.
Practice self care
If you’ve been living an unstructured life, or a life that revolved around the needs of your family, it’s time to set some anchors in your day. Plan your meals, maybe with the help of a meal delivery service or a slow cooker.
Give yourself time to wind down in the evening. Get in the habit of taking half an hour to read, or taking time for yoga or meditation in the evening.
Set a regular bedtime and make your bedroom comfortable. Develop a night time ritual including things like skincare and tidying your space. Small habits like these can help you sleep better and be ready for the next day.
Soon your new normal will feel normal!