Despite our best efforts, not everyone will be able to avoid the return to the office forever, and when the time comes, it’s best to have a game plan for the transition.
We asked readers who have already returned to in-person work how they’ve managed the transition, and they shared their tips and reminders for fellow workers who’ll be making their return soon.
“Give people time to readjust to being back in an office setting,” said Wayne from Tewksbury. “Moving from office work to home was a much easier change than going from home back to the office.”
Jodi Detjen is an associate professor of practice in management at Suffolk University and a co-managing partner of Orange Grove Consulting, where she consults businesses on recruitment and retention. In the last year, she’s spoken with several organizations about how to better serve employees when they’re called back to the office.
“Even though there’s a lot of software out there to help with brainstorming and collaboration is still much more effective in person,” said Detjen.
Still, Detjen said workers who would rather work from home have plenty of valid reasons to do so, whether that be because of the increased flexibility and productivity or that it allows them to better attend to the other priorities in their lives like childcare and time with loved ones.
“Preparation would go a long way in helping people become more effective at work,” Detjen said.
“There’s going to be a transition.”
Detjen said many workers returning to the office are going to hate it at first — and that’s okay.
“There’s going to be a transition. It’s going to take people three to six months to figure out how to work with this again. It’s not a switch that you can magically turn off and on. It’s a behavioral change,” she said.
Alex from Cambridge works as a lab-based scientist and has been back in person since June of 2020. He told Boston.com he’s seen others in his life react in lots of different ways to the return. Instead of forcing yourself to get back to normal as quickly as possible, acknowledge that people will experience everything from “minor social skill faux pas to newfound mental illness.”
“No two people will adjust the same. What I can say is that some people will love being back while others can’t get away fast enough,” Alex said. “One thing that I will say is that the pandemic affected everyone tremendously, more often much deeper and more impactfully than people realize.”
Jamie from Swampscott told Boston.com that they experienced “a long, depressing adjustment period.”
“You’ll miss your dog, your partner, your home, your freedom, your time. Someday you’ll get used to it again, and you’ll find joy in the spots you used to visit (if they’re still there), but you’ll never stop missing working from home.”
Detjen said some level of sadness about returning to the office will be normal.
“I think people are going to mourn their flexibility. They’re going to mourn the fact that they can’t see the kids when they get home from school,” she said. “So there’s going to be some sadness that people are going to experience and it’s a very human reaction.”
Relearning your commute
A big reason so many workers are resistant to the idea of returning to the office full time is because of the long commutes that await them when they do. Boston is notorious for its gridlock traffic, with the average driver losing 78 hours due to traffic. In a poll of more than 5,000 Boston.com readers, many cited commuting as the primary reason they didn’t want to get back into the office.
“The commute has a couple of components,” Detjen said. “It’s got the time component, how much it actually takes for people to do it. It’s also got the stress component because if you’re sitting in the commute for an hour, that’s very stressful. It’s also money. How much is the cost for people to pay?”
“Relearn your commute, how long it takes, what are the alternate routes to use if necessary,” said Wayne from Tewksbury.
Nick from New Hampshire said he’s found a way to think differently about his commute to and from work.
“I actually enjoy my 40-minute commute. It gives me ‘me’ time,” Nick said. “Also, it sets clear boundaries for when you’re at work and when you’re not. The office creates a place of camaraderie that Zoom meetings have not over the past two years.”
How employers can help
For some readers, no amount of advance notice is enough to get them ready to return to their office jobs. Instead, they said they’re ready to walk away from their jobs for other remote opportunities.
John S. from Andover’s advice on how to get ready to the office once your employer mandates it was simple: “Look for employment elsewhere.”
“It’s a competitive market and not all employers are stuck in the Stone Age. If you’ve been remotely productive for more than two years and they’re saving costs on property, maintenance, and equipment, but they’re insistent on your return, it’s because they don’t trust their employees.”
Detjen said employers run the risk of losing talent if they look at the return to the office as a mandate rather than an opportunity to think about work differently.
“These edicts aren’t actually looking at what’s required for the job to be done. They’re just something to make, in my opinion, a lot of managers feel more comfortable about how to manage,” Detjen said. “Everybody knew how to manage what I call ‘butts and seats.’ If you’re there, you’re productive. Now online, we’ve had to change the way we measure outcomes and productivity and that’s difficult.”
To help with this, Detjen and her team at Orange Grove Consulting recommend that organizations focus more on what teams and individuals within the company need to transition more effectively. For example, some teams may require more in-person time to better collaborate while others would be less focused in a noisy office environment.
“When you empower the teams to make the decision about how to most effectively get the work done, they will decide what works best,” she said. “You can measure this. It’s adaptable, they can actually go back and say this isn’t working, how can we change this? When you make it as an edict policy, there’s no room for flexibility.”
“Minimize the pain of returning”
If you are one of those employees who will be called back to the office soon, Boston.com readers who have already made their return have some practical tips for getting back in the swing of things. Start with comfortable shoes and good coffee to “minimize the pain of returning to the office,” one reader suggests.
Part of making the most out of the transition will be streamlining your daily routines by planning your meals and outfits in advance to help avoid headaches.
“Get back to meal prepping! Especially lunches. Our office is open but the cafeteria has limited selections, is pricey, and honestly, the food is not good. Two years of eating what and when I wanted has made the transition to being on the clock again tough,” said a reader from South Shore. “So I’m back to spending a portion of Sunday meal prepping for the week. Threw out my grungy lunch bag for a roomier one that holds breakfast, lunch, and snacks.”
Once you’re in the office, it’s important to be respectful of the fact that you’re now sharing space with others.
“Learn how to work quietly at your desk,” said Wayne from Tewksbury. “Noises don’t bother others when working from home, but do in an office. Limit long discussions with others at your desk as they can disturb others nearby who may be trying to do online meetings. Remember the things that the habits you picked up at home cannot be done when at the office.”
Boston.com occasionally interacts with readers by conducting informal polls and surveys. These results should be read as an unscientific gauge of readers’ opinion.