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Top tips for going back to work after COVID-19

Nov. 23, 2020

girl at work at a virtual meeting

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  • A KPMG poll revealed that 54% of Canadians feel anxiety about returning to the office 
  • Going back to work can stir up a range of emotions, from relief and excitement to stress and anxiety
  • Beyond following health guidelines, prioritizing your mental well-being can help you feel more at ease when returning to work

According to Statistics Canada, 40% of Canada’s workforce moved to working from home when lockdown restrictions came into place. Now with the end of the year in sight, many are wondering what the workplace might look like in 2021.

For many employees, the idea of returning to work can cause anxiety. For some, it’s the idea of being in the building itself and using common kitchen areas, crowded elevators or attending face-to-face meetings. For others, the idea of commuting or getting lunch at a nearby deli might be cause for worry.

If you’re feeling nervous about returning to work, here are some steps you can take to help manage this anxiety:

Prepare with your family

Returning to work will have an impact on everyone in your household. Perhaps you’ve got pets who have been used to having you around all the time – especially if you brought home a four-legged family member during lockdown. You might also have children who have become used to you working from home. Having open and honest conversations can help reduce the fear of the unknown and can help you navigate this shift in your routine together.

Ask your employer what the return-to-work policy looks like

Studies have shown fear of the unknown can significantly compound anxiety. Being worried about the uncertain, known as anticipatory anxiety, can leave you feeling overwhelmed and powerless. To remove some of this uncertainty, speak to your boss about what a return to work will look like.

You might want to ask:

  • Will all employees be returning or will we be taking a phased approach? 
  • How many employees will be returning at once?
  • Have any physical changes been made to the working environment?
  • How will measures such as face covering and social distancing be enforced? Are any other workplace safety measures in place?
  • Will you be providing any PPE equipment, such as masks?

Talk to your coworkers about going back to work

You might want to exchange thoughts on how you’re coping and share strategies for things like commuting, or how to keep a safe distance in the office. Whether it’s during a scheduled check in or a casual conversation, sharing these experiences can help relieve some stress while also having the chance to learn and to support others.

Take time to adapt

Just as going into lockdown and the months that followed were a period of adjustment, going back to work may take some getting used to. Take it day by day, expect that straightforward tasks might take a little longer and don’t become angry with yourself or frustrated if things don’t feel ‘normal’ right away.

Manage non-COVID anxiety, too

Worries about COVID aside, you may feel a general sense of worry about going back to work after such an extended break.

You may be working for the first time alongside new colleagues who joined during the work-from-home era, or you could also return to find former coworkers have been laid off or moved on. You may have become used to working on your own and now worry about interacting in larger groups.

Perhaps some renovation or building work during the shutdown makes the physical workplace look and feel different from how you remember.

People cope with change in a number of ways. Try figuring out which coping method you tend to use so you can look up some resources that can help you adjust to life in the new work environment.

Finally, remember:

  • Only listen to information from sources you trust. Communicate openly with management about things like the return-to-work policy or changes that might take place as the pandemic continues. Try to avoid water-cooler gossip or rumours that could add to anticipatory anxiety.
  • Manage your expectations. The experience you think you’ll have when you return to work could look quite different to reality. You won’t be able to envision what your new routine will look like until it happens. Expect that the first couple of weeks will be more stressful and that things will get easier. Whether you need extra time to deal with an emotional response or to adjust to things like changes in surroundings, give yourself time and space to manage expectations.
  • Celebrate the little things. For many of us, returning to work after COVID will be a milestone. Celebrating little things along the way such as the first day or first week, a piece of work you’ve delivered or simply making it through your commute can help raise your confidence and boost morale within your team.

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