By Roxanne Ferreira, GCDF
and Kass Williams
Career Services Coordinator
Over the last year and a half, countless individuals have faced challenges related to unemployment, remote work and career changes. Now as many people return to in-person work, the concerns and mixed emotions surrounding this transition pose a new challenge.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the number of U.S. employees working from home full-time jumped from 17% to 44%. Now, with vaccine availability across the country, many businesses have reopened their doors for employees to come back to the office. However, not all employees are ready to return to in-person work full-time.
It isn’t that employees don’t want to work in their offices at all. In fact, an Eden Workplace poll found that 62% of employees want a hybrid work environment where they split their hours between the office and home. So why are workers hesitant to return to the office?
Why Workers Don’t Want to Return to the Office Full-Time
For over a year, many of us have worked from the comfort of home and settled into new routines that have permanently reshaped the way we view work. Returning to the office full-time means our routines must change once again, which is uncomfortable and stressful.
It’s not just the idea of stepping outside our comfort zones that has many people worried about returning to the office. Other reasons employees are anxious about going back to in-person work include fears of:
- Catching and transmitting COVID-19
- Finding affordable and reliable childcare
- Having less work autonomy and flexibility
- Losing the work-life balance that remote work afforded them
- Interacting with people
Returning to an old routine, beginning a new routine or simply breaking away from your current, comfortable routine can be difficult. Whether you are returning to the same job or starting a new one, there are five ways to prepare for in-person work.
#1: Overcome Anxiety and Burnout
First, speak with your employer about your concerns, whatever they may be. If you want a more flexible schedule, try to negotiate one.
Demonstrate your ability to effectively perform your job from home. If you worked remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, showcase the results you produced during that time.
If you’re uncomfortable with the thought of being around people after social distancing for so long, try gradually dipping your toes back into social interaction. Meet your coworkers in a more casual setting to get used to interacting with them. Going out for lunch or participating in a team-builder exercise could help you feel more comfortable being in your coworkers’ presence.
Find healthy distractions to get you through the workday. Listen to music or a podcast at your desk, or take mental health breaks to text a loved one or play a brain game. Another option is to invest in a stress reliever like a yo-yo or fidget spinner. If you took breaks to exercise while working from home, ask your boss if you can do the same in the office.
If you’re worried about your health, research your employer’s health and safety standards and new office policies. Ask if your employer requires COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of employment as well as the use of other safety protocols, such as mask mandates, travel restrictions, or routine COVID-19 testing.
#2: Explore Various Commuting Options for In-Person Work
As you prepare to return to the office, one of the first things you’ll want to consider is your commute and how long it will take. According to a report from the U.S. Census Bureau, the average one-way commute in the United States increased to a new high of 27.6 minutes in 2019. Commuting patterns have shifted over the past year, so your old commute may be very different now.
To start, review information from your employer regarding commuter benefits and programs. While subway, bus and other public transportation benefits may be available, not everyone feels safe using public transportation at this time.
Some employers may offer you the chance to use ride-hailing services or an employee carpool network. Other employers might even provide incentives for active commuting, such as bicycling.
Once you’ve determined how you’ll commute to work, practice the trip so you’ll know how long it will take. Also, explore alternative routes to work to determine whether you can reduce your commute time.
Commutes can be stressful, so consider beneficial activities you can do during your commute. These commuting activities could be listening to a podcast, making plans for your workday or personal life, making phone calls, relaxing, reading, or practicing self-care strategies. Find what works best for you to help create a positive commuting routine.
#3: Boost Your Confidence and Get Excited
Preparing for your first few days back at in-person work will help you feel more confident and focused. Set aside time and funds to do something good for yourself: get a haircut, purchase a new outfit, or splurge on a coffee or special treat during your first week back.
Harness the power of positive thinking to create an optimistic mindset and get excited about returning to the office. Make a list of the things you consider benefits to returning to in-person work. Some advantages to being in a traditional in-person work environment include:
- Enhanced collaboration and communication
- A structured day with a solid transition between work and home life
- An organized work environment
- Social engagement with colleagues
- A greater sense of meaning and purpose for your work
Consider any negative thoughts that arise, and replace self-doubt and criticism with encouragement. Give yourself a compliment and recall some of your past accomplishments to remind yourself of your capabilities.
#4: Reshape Your Current Routine
Even if you have only been out of work for a brief time, returning to in-person work will have a great impact on your daily routine.
Identify the routine you’ve developed during your time at home and consider the areas where you’ll want to continue to make time for. Reflect on the changes you’ll need to make to accommodate your new schedule. Take advantage of planning tools that can help you prioritize tasks and stay organized.
You may experience a change in your ability to complete household tasks. If you share a home with others, discuss home-related responsibilities with them and plan for any shifts in roles or expectations. If you manage household tasks independently, create a list of supporters who could help you with simple tasks if needed.
Change is physically and emotionally challenging. Give priority to routines that help you maintain healthy habits, such as eating nutritious food, exercising, getting enough sleep and practicing self-care strategies.
#5: Consider Making a Career Change
If getting to work from home is a deal breaker for you, consider finding a new job. According to a May 2021 poll by Morning Consult, 39% of workers said they would leave their jobs if they weren’t offered the opportunity to work from home at least partially.
While many roles require in-person work, there are also thousands of jobs that can be performed just as effectively from home. If your employer isn’t flexible with remote work and this lack of flexibility is something about which you have strong feelings, a career change may be in your future.
If you like your current job but want to work from home, search for similar positions with employers who offer remote work. Make sure you include your preferred location within the search criteria if you don’t want to relocate to another state. Some remote positions may require that employees live within state boundaries for tax purposes.
Now is an opportune time to pivot your career. Many people across the nation are leaving their jobs for better pay and a work-life balance in what has been coined “The Great Resignation.” Others are diving into lifelong passions and pursuing gig work instead of a traditional 9-5 job.
Before you start your job search, consider what a career change will entail and the work you’ll need to do to transition into a new role or industry. University students and alumni who want help with this process can contact a Career Coach for assistance.
About the Authors
Roxanne Ferreira has been a Career Coach at the university since June 2019 and has over nine years of experience in education. Prior to working for the university, she was a lead teacher at Ocean State Montessori School in East Providence, Rhode Island, and a teacher for Killingly Public Schools in Killingly, Connecticut. Roxanne has a B.A. in elementary education from Rhode Island College.
Kass Williams serves as the University Career Services Coordinator, employing her communication, editing and project management skills to support the Career Services Department with content creation. She is also a licensed REALTOR® who serves the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. Kass holds a B.A. in English with a writing concentration from Davis & Elkins College.