Returning to work after time away

By Nick Gamble

The working week as we once knew it has changed dramatically but that doesn’t mean that some of us will get left behind. Life is all about being flexible, open minded, adapting and making small changes, one step at a time. Heading back to work after an extended period off can seem pretty daunting for some, or a light at the end of the tunnel for others. It really all comes down to how you’re wired and your outlook on day to day routine as well how you like to spend your free time. But whether you have continued working all the way through this pandemic, been employed part-time or had weeks off work, remember that everyone has been affected by covid-19 in some way and will have had to adjust their way of working. You're not alone in this and you certainly aren't the only person with concerns, worries, uncertainties.

The amount of time you've been away plays a big part. If it was only for a short time you may have not wanted to 'waste' the time off and instead, used it to do jobs in the house or garden that you never get round to. Sitting still might be alien to you so you've kept yourself busy with a list of jobs and tasks to help you feel productive. Or perhaps if you've been off for weeks, if not months, you have learned to be content with 'being' rather than 'doing'. You may have surprised yourself with how much you've enjoyed down time, reading, sitting drinking you cup of coffee and reflecting, watching a movie uninterrupted... just generally slowing down the every day pace of your life. Either way, when faced with going back to work, especially after a longer period off, you may struggle getting back to grips with the working week, particularly if now you have to do it from home.

Here are a few suggestions for easing yourself back into working life:

Manage your expectations

Do not to expect everything to be as it was or for your output to be the same straight away.

Give yourself time to adjust. This is something new and you might not feel accustomed to it straight away. It's okay not to be as motivated or driven during this time of working. You are processing all the changes the world is facing in the back of your mind every single day. Take your time and slowly adapt your ways to ensure you are working effectively and sustainably. It's also important not to overwork or push yourself too far. If you’re not feeling well enough to work and wouldn’t go into the office, don't be worried to take a sick day to rest and recuperate.

If you can, factor in a 'commute walk'.

Going for a walk in the morning is like your commute to work and gives you time to gather your thoughts, get into the right mindset and plan the day. Spending time outdoors and being active is also good for your mood and general health. If time and your circumstances allow, a walk at the end of the day can also be effective in marking the end of your work day, processing what you have accomplished and helping you to switch off your 'work brain'.

Make a dedicated workspace.

Having an organised 'office space' enables you to work effectively and makes it easier to focus. Separating your work and home life is also important in keeping a healthy work / life balance. If possible, try to find a place to work in where you can close the door at the end of the day and during work hours so you don’t get distracted or feel tempted to go back and do a little more work outside of your normal hours. Set specific work hours in the day for yourself and stick to it as much as possible. You may even find you work more effectively when you give yourself a deadline rather than procrastinating or losing focus because you know you have the evening free to work if needed.

Set boundaries for your work life and environment.

As you’re now at home, it can be easy to feel distracted by others in your household. Have a chat and remind them that you still need to work and outline some key ways in which they can support you in that. As tempting as it can be have the TV on in the background, this can make it feel like a weekend and can stop you having a productive day. The distraction is likely to interrupt your work flow and makes it harder to concentrate on the task at hand. If you like to have background noise, try having the radio on or creating a few different playlists of music for different moods. It's also important to consider your posture throughout the day. Try to roll your shoulders back and sit up right to avoid tension building up in your neck and shoulders.

Call colleagues regularly to chat about work / socialise.

Regular touch points with your team are an essential part of creating a positive work environment, even when this is from the comfort of everyone's homes. Videos calls are more effective in simulating face to face interaction and allows for non verbal communication too. Teams calls provide an open forum to share ideas, give feedback, listen to others, reflect on progress, help one another, celebrate achievements as well as creating a valuable opportunity for your voice to be heard. We're social creatures after all so building a team culture also minimises the risk of isolation and burnout.

Take regular short breaks.

It's important not to sit hunched over your laptop for hours upon end. So try to split the day up with regular breaks where you leave your work station for a few minutes. Whether you do 5 star jumps, 2 minutes of stretching, walk around the room, do something productive like washing up, you'll come back with a clear mind and be ready to work again. If you're tempted to regularly visit the fridge, try to have set snack times so that it's in a disciplined manner. You can also prepare healthy snacks the night before for when you're feeling peckish. For example, carrot sticks and hummus rather than sweet treats.

Positivity is key!

Remember that bad days are normal - and to be expected. So try not to let one negative task, conversation or day influence your mood for the rest of the week. Look for the positives in each moment and try to adopt a hopeful mindset. Some suggestions on how to do this are: recognising and celebrating every achievement no matter how small, saying one thing you are grateful for every morning before you start working or naming a highlight at the end of the working day. Tone is also difficult to gauge when typing rather than through face to face interaction so embrace the exclamation point and use your favourite emoji. These small gestures or actions add up.

You don't necessarily need to do all of the above, nor do you need to all of the time, but implementing some of these will help to make your transition as smooth as possible. Some may work better than others so pick and choose based on you as a person, the situation you're in and the environment around you.

You can read more of our articles about the impact of covid-19, how to adapt and positively move forward here.

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