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5 Ways to Ease Back Into the Post-Pandemic Workplace

Prepare yourself with the right mindset and strategy.

Key points

  • Returning to the office may bring about feelings reminiscent of childhood “back-to-school” nerves.
  • Workers can prepare for this transition by practicing their professional decorum and social etiquette.
  • Time management, dressing the part, and aiming for an approach of gratitude may also be helpful.

The return to work has been happening steadily, despite discussions of how much of a remote hybrid will exist long-term. But are you ready for the transition after a hiatus of historic magnitude? Are you feeling the "back-to-school jitters"?

Aliaksandra Post/Shutterstock
Source: Aliaksandra Post/Shutterstock

You may be wondering if work will get done differently going forward; if you’ve missed out on strategic direction; whether a more restrictive office existence will be stressful; what it might be like to deal with in-person politics again; among other concerns.

So what steps can you take to maximize your career advancement as you enter the new workplace? Here are five ideas to consider:

1. Up your professional ante. According to various studies, a silver lining of the pandemic (if you can consider something this deadly as having one) is that people have, in effect, reformed. They've become kinder, at least outside the office (!). The hope is that this more humanistic approach will spill over into corporate America. Nevertheless, the more flexible, entrepreneurial style of work you became accustomed to may get a bit of a culture shock. Professional decorum and social etiquette are likely to be a mainstay in the office.

For a while, you've been spared some unique facets of onsite work, such as office gossip; coworker noise you can’t control; and office-related interruptions. Still, this is a good time to remind yourself: be on your best behavior; act as if you're in your next position on the organizational chart; and lead by example. Don't be overwhelmed by the events around you. You're in control of your perceptions and how you manage your surroundings—only you can filter out what does not serve you.

2. Time for time management. You have had less structure while working from home, despite those days of back-to-back Zoom calls. Now, your time is at the mercy of many more people. You’re physically accessible again and unplanned meetings and events will happen.

This will require you to compensate with more structure, work smarter, and communicate more efficiently. Remember to leave calls for peak hours and thinking projects for after hours. Your ability to focus and prioritize is critical. Deploy time management tools that have worked well in the past; and explore some new ones, too.

3. Put your EQ on overdrive. During the pandemic and the work-from-home dynamic, there was a more casual approach to communications. People were fully working from home, and a stuffy, conservative workplace was far from sight. Granted, remote work has its own set of emotional intelligence challenges, given the heavy reliance on technology.

But now, with the masses re-entering the office, many people feel uneasy about being in that social setting once again. Health and safety concerns aside for a moment, this requires readjustment—a re-onboarding of sorts. Stepping away from any skills set can make you rusty. And leaving the office for any length of time can create awkwardness and anxiety. If you've ever been unemployed for a protracted period, or taken maternity leave or a sabbatical, you know that returning can be daunting.

This is a good time to refine your emotional intelligence abilities, using diplomacy and greater sensitivity in your new surroundings. For example, when you feel you may be misunderstood, take the extra step to clarify. Conversely, if you feel you’re miles apart from understanding your manager or coworkers, make the extra effort to connect more directly, with patience. These efforts will help you and others through the transition; even your boss.

4. Dress the part. A lot has been said about quarantine clothing and athleisure wear, and while corporate America adopted a more relaxed dress code in recent years, you won’t find yoga pants in most board rooms anytime soon.

Yes, a nice pair of classic jeans and a tailored look with quality accessories will go a long way. Having a blazer in your car can be a lifesaver for last-minute client meetings. (After all, clients, too, have gladly ditched workout clothes for a hopeful new era!) Your best bet is to pay attention to the current dress code—and when all else fails, observe what your managers wear.

5. Explore a feeling of gratitude. Feelings about returning to work are mixed, according to many employment-related studies. Many prefer remote work and yet others miss the office environment, while some have valid health concerns about returning. Overall, a majority seem to favor a hybrid work existence. Suffice to say that having a satisfying job after a tumultuous year is something to indeed be grateful for.

Regardless of your perspective, the opportunity to return to work can be looked upon as a glass half-full. After all, no job is a prison sentence; you can always leave. It's helpful to remember you can choose the job option that works best for your lifestyle, and create the balance you desire. Adopting an approach of gratitude will improve your outlook, no matter your career choice.

The return to work phenomenon triggered by COVID-19 may be reminiscent of reentering school in the fall with that uneasy feeling. But now is the opportunity to be proactive in this new work phase—with the right mindset and strategy.

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