Getting Ready to Return to Work

You may be asking yourself right along with your boss if you are ready to return to work. After a long year of WFH (Work From Home) for many people around the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some places are readying for that call or email regarding an anticipated date of return to the workplace.

Are you ready?

What should you be considering?

Connect And Be Humans First

If you haven’t been in the same room with others from your workplace for more than a year, it’s going to take some getting used to being together again. And if you are starting a new job or new position, you’ll need to take time just getting used to being around other people who have a history and a culture that isn’t familiar to you.

You might not know who has had a death in the family due to COVID-19. You might not know who isn’t able to get a family member vaccinated because of their immunocompromised state. You won’t know until it’s shared who has lost the sense of taste and smell and cringes at the sight of fresh donuts or coffee because right now they taste like sand. You need time to talk and be humans first before jumping into working together, and yet I can anticipate that some places of work may try to circumnavigate these realities and ask people to get back to the rhythm of work quickly.

Why is it important to give yourself some time and intentional space to connect with people you are working with in the same physical space?

It can’t be iterated too many times that the world has been going through one of the most epic and catastrophic health crisis in a hundred years. With crisis comes grief, trauma, and recovery, all of which do not follow specific timelines for all people. Additionally, the U.S. has been shaken by political and social conflicts. What one person can say with lightness and joking can be another person’s nightmare.

Gathering together may help you make an assessment of where you and others are “at”. A fellow colleague might have close friends and relatives in an area of the world that is struggling with high COVID-19 transmission rates and a fragile or overwhelmed healthcare response. It’s your opportunity to share with others if you’ve been under stress because of the additional duties of managing your children’s ZOOM school time or an elder’s additional care needs that changed because of local guidelines on assisted living and group home care.

Grooming and Hygiene Needs a Once-Over Check

Stores that catered to people seeking fragrances, cosmetics, and haircare protects saw a drop in sales in 2020. When hair salons were forced to close during lockdown or go to very low capacity, many people pivoted the best they could.

As we return to places of work, it’s time for a grooming and hygiene “once over.” Teeth brushed? Breath checked? Shirt ironed (or, at least unrumpled)? Shoes free of dirt (wait, we can’t wear slippers to work, right?)? No scented products on? Hair dried and brushed?

Are you in need of replacing or repairing an item of clothing that shows wear or dirt? Do you know the policies at your workplace regarding designs that might be off-putting or inappropriate? Will there be places you cannot socially distance that will require mask-wearing, and are those masks in good condition?

Depending on where you live, hair salons and barbershops may not be able to accommodate same-day appointments, due to capacity limitations and staff availability. Anticipate delays and book appointments in advance of your anticipated day of return to the workplace.

Oh Yeah, I Forgot About That Commute Time!

After a year plus of WFH, many of us have adjusted to the flexibility of tucking in work responsibilities we could do remotely simultaneously with running errands or having others around us.

I was surprised by a businessman who continued to keep his cell phone pressed to his ear when he walked up to my station for a COVID-19 vaccination. He was asked to put his call on mute and put the phone down because he had entered a medical environment with privacy concerns. We also needed his full and undivided attention for just a few minutes.

Similarly, your commute time to work and your adjustment to being “all there” at your place of work will need to be factored into your adjustment period. In Washington State, distracted driving comes tickets and the possibility of being charged if you cause an accident.

Additionally, online counseling sessions with SDC follow current telehealth laws and ethics of conduct that support safe practice and patient safety. We do not encourage counseling sessions to be conducted in a moving car while clients are driving, in any public location while running business or running errands, or in any public location where the client cannot identify their location in case of emergency. The exception to this is for crisis calls of 15 minutes or less whereby a licensed professional can prove that it was in the patient’s best interest to take that call and support the patient’s immediate need and set up an appropriate follow up session.

Your work commute time, while on public transit or in a private vehicle, will need to be factored back into your overall daily and weekly routines again. For many of you, this might be a breath of fresh air. For others, everything from car repairs after your vehicle has sat unused to adjustments of parking one’s car and walking into the door of the workplace will need to be considered. For example, two flights of stone steps might not sound bad, but they could feel worse than normal after 10,000 steps during the workday on a hard surface.

Productivity Expectations

Expectations on your level of productivity when returning to the workplace, whether in hybrid mode or all in-person, will need to be discussed. For some, bosses expected their employees to be available at a moment’s notice and for more hours because there was no commute involved. At the same time, you may need to request an honest talk about productivity in a return to work because the previous expectation was unsustainable.

The demands of your home life may not have changed; that is, there are still adjustments to be made when your spouse or partner has not transitioned back to the workplace and there are still needs to be met for children who will be home from ZOOM school for the summer (and likely into the Fall 2021 school year). All of these factors affect your ability to pivot and transition back to the workplace.

Physical and Mental Health Concerns

When I heard from my dentist how many of his patients had fallen behind on their dental hygiene, I did not judge. We were doing the best that we could, and offices had to decrease their patient load to accommodate local COVID-19 restrictions and lock downs.

Now that many of our healthcare and mental health care services are available (masks, PCR tests prior to more involved treatments, remote access when useful), you may need to take a careful look at what needs a tuneup.

Besides looking at your blood serum lab results, are you having any symptoms that your HCP should know about? Are you having trouble with sleep, depression or anxiety, or issues that you think might be related to being COVID-19 positive, even if was a year ago?

Adjustments to Constant Disruption

It’s fair to say that we have all experienced disruption to our lives. Even if you were in a remote area of the world, you might have noticed that supply chains were disrupted and deliveries delayed. Mail and shipping slowed. One moment you were told masks weren’t necessary; another moment, you were scrambling to learn how to sew one yourself or get the right type of mask made by a reputable source.

Similarly, there will be present and future disruptions and changes to deal with. Your employer may insert the right to deliver a verbal attestation of your current health status related to COVID-19 symptoms, or to ask if you would like to put an app on your phone that does the same thing. You would then be required to share your answers on the app before entering your building’s workplace.

Because of breakthrough cases (1-5%) of vaccinated people getting COVID-19 because of high transmission rates in outbreak areas, you may still be wearing a mask and socially distancing. It may feel like a disruption because when you have been at home, you haven’t had to wear a mask. While healthcare workers are used to this dichotomy of worlds, many workers in the general population are not accustomed to it.

Additionally, there are many strong feelings about these behaviors and choices. Talking about them and explaining your choices can be exhausting. When I would wear a mask outdoors just for dust and pollen season, I was often scolded by uneducated people. I’ll leave this here for your own contemplation: wearing a mask as a protective device hurts no one else, and you may be protecting someone who is vulnerable.

Permanent Work From Home

Some employers made the decision to allow some or all of their workers remain on work from home. They shuttered their expensive office spaces when productivity remained high and their workers transitioned to online video conferencing services such as Microsoft Teams and ZOOM meetings.

Others were furloughed, laid off, and rehired into jobs that would remain remote. They never got a chance to say good-bye to their co-workers; instead, they picked up their things quietly and in isolation.

If you never took the time to grieve and mark the dramatic changes as you tried your best to pivot to the next step, maybe it’s time create a way to mark that point. If you got hired to a new job, mark the anniversary of the new position and celebrate it. It could be something as simple as ringing a bell each time a colleague celebrates a work anniversary, or more involved such as a small gift box of things to help celebrate the occasion.

Do you have any other thoughts about returning to work post-pandemic? Please send them in a comment.

By Imei Hsu

Imei Hsu is a mental health counselor, active retired RN, AIP Coach and PN1-NC, writer, triathlete and arts promoter in the Seattle area and through online services. With 30+ years in healthcare (22+ years in mental health), Imei has a commitment to helping people discover insight into their health, relationships, and connecting. She is the owner of Seattle Direct Counseling and the blog, a presenter and speaker on a variety of psychological topics, and a positive force on the Internet. She launched her personal project, My Allergy Advocate, in 2018. Imei is a two-time Ironman Finisher (Mont-Tremblant 2016, Ironman Canada 2018); she also finished her first ultramarathon in 2017 and has gone on to race the 100K distance while preparing for 100 Mile trail races and a backyard ultra. You can find her running everywhere and eating all the thingz, watching movies, camping under the stars, and cooking real food.

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