How to adjust to the workplace again
As pandemic recedes, going back to the office will not be easy for all
In early 2020 the world of work changed as the pandemic saw many employees turn parts of their homes into makeshift offices, attending virtual meetings in sweatpants.
Very soon working through a screen became the norm.
With the worst seemingly behind us employees are going back to the workplace.
For 23-year-old Siphesihle Mabase, returning to the office full time came with mixed emotions. While she looked forward to seeing her colleagues, the Pretoria-based call centre agent also had to fight the unfamiliarity that now came with working at the office.
“I officially went back to the office on May 17. I won’t lie, it felt weird going back to doing things in formal outfits instead of pyjamas and having to interact with my colleagues face-to-face instead of in virtual meetings.
“The same can be said for the early mornings in this cold weather,” she said.
After working from home for two years, Mabase admitted she had grown accustomed to working virtually and even grown fond of it.
“I find that working virtually comes with less pressure. I am also an introvert so working virtually was a plus for me. Oh, and it also came with less ‘office drama’."
But Mabase is also grateful for her colleagues and work environment. She believes working in a team has made the transition manageable.
As she re-adapts to office life, Mabase has adopted a few strategies to ease the change, be productive and protect her wellbeing.
“Communicating with my colleagues works because it helps with keeping us in sync. Listening to music during tea breaks and lunchtime also helps me a lot, so does genuinely and constantly reminding myself why I do what I do,” she said.
According to industrial psychologist Sithisa Magxwalisa, a change in perspective can make the process of even the most intimidating transition more bearable.
“It’s really about how we frame the process of returning to work. Organisations also need to give employees a voice and the opportunity to engage in making decisions that directly affect their way of working.”
Magxwalisa says going back to the workplace also shows the progress we have made in dealing with the pandemic.
“It is sort of comforting to know that some aspects of the pandemic are behind us. We’ve got to where we can manage Covid-19 in such a way that we can be reintegrated into society and the workplace.”
Magxwalisa emphasised the importance of being considerate, compassionate and understanding when you return to the workplace after the long break. After all, this is an adjustment to everyone and the pandemic has been a tough time for everyone.
“Some people became employed during the pandemic and haven’t even met their colleagues since the start of the job,” Magxwalisa said. "Also, a lot of lives were lost during the pandemic so returning to work will remind others of the loss the pandemic wreaked on individuals in the workplace.”
Ultimately, Magxwalisa believes the outlook of many employees has changed and they are now more aware of the importance of their mental health and overall wellbeing.
“Employees have started rethinking the places in which they work and of the impact their workplaces have on their lives. They’re also rethinking of the energy they’re willing to invest in their work life.
“People are actually willing to forego environments that do not create a safe space for them to flourish. They are a lot more conscious about managing their mental health and wellbeing, especially coming out of a devastating pandemic.”
Whether you are returning to your workplace or have already done so, it is important to ensure that your presence back at work does not negatively impact your wellbeing, creativity and productivity. Here are a few tips from Magxwalisa on readjusting to the workplace.
Have a routine in place
Getting back to the office may mean a disruption in the routine you had adopted as it may take away your flexibility. Ensure you have a new routine in place that will allow you to get to the office on time and ensure productivity while also ensuring other aspects of your day (such as doing school runs) are still intact.
Be open to a new reality
It is important to be open to the fact that a lot may be different. The workplace may be a little noisier than your workspace at home and some colleagues may, unfortunately, no longer be around. Find ways to accept and embrace this new reality so you can make the most of it.
Prioritise your wellbeing
Make it a habit to constantly check in with yourself. If you find you are experiencing work stress, identify its causes and some of the ways it can be managed. Take advantage of employee wellness platforms made available by your employer to manage the stress that comes with dealing with change or any other factors that may make you unproductive or unwell.
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