After roughly two years, many companies that switched to working fully remote during the COVID-19 pandemic are now asking employees to return to the office. Companies ranging from Microsoft and Google to American Express and Citigroup have announced their plans to welcome employees back to their (in-office) desks either full or part time.
But heading back to the office is going to require some adjustments for many employees. If you’re returning to the office on either a full-time or hybrid schedule, here are 10 ways to prepare yourself for the change.
1. Get to know your company's COVID policies
Your office likely has undergone a number of changes since the pandemic began, says Stefanie Heiter, founder and CEO of Bridging Distance, a workplace consultancy. From how your desks are arranged to allow for social distancing to the equipment you’ll use for meetings in the conference room, it’s important to talk to your managers or human resources (HR) department to get a sense of what will be different now.
You’ll also want to determine whether you’re going back to the office full time or whether you’ll adopt a hybrid schedule. Some companies are being more flexible about the latter, as nearly 6 in 10 workers would look for a new job if forced to go back to the office full time, according to a FlexJobs poll.
2. Check on your physical fitness
Some folks used the pandemic as an opportunity to embrace health and fitness. And others used it as an opportunity to embrace sweatpants and Netflix. Either way, commuting to and being in the office all day is going to require some physical endurance that you may not have maintained at home, says longevity expert Michael Clinton, author of Roar Into the Second Half of Your Life.
Of course, it’s important to check with your physician before starting any exercise regimen. But think about the walking and physical strength you’ll need for your job and commute and think about what you’ll need to do get ready for your days.
3. Remember what you put in your pockets or purse
Wallet. Glasses. Mask. Keys. Lip balm. Company ID. Phone. It’s time to get used to going through your personal checklist again to be sure you have what you need to get through your day, Heiter says. Get reacquainted with your essentials, how you carry them, and how you ensure you haven’t forgotten anything. What may have been a habit a year or two ago may now require some attentiveness.
While you’re at it, Clinton suggests thinking about the habits you’ve adopted while working from home to keep your household running smoothly and how those things will get done when you go back to working in the office. Chores like throwing in a load of laundry or two during the day, using a break for meal prep or even tidying up on your lunch hour were easier to do when you were home all the time. Now you need a new plan to keep the house in order.
4. Try on your work wardrobe
After two years in the closet, your wardrobe may need a bit of an update, Clinton says. “The idea of a work wardrobe has changed dramatically,” he says. Check office policies about attire. Then, try on the clothes you plan to wear to ensure they fit comfortably, and purchase some new items if necessary.
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5. Test-drive your commute
Another thing that may have changed is your commute, Clinton says. Many public transit agencies revised their train and bus schedules at the start of the pandemic and still may not be running as frequently as they did two years ago. Double-check mass transit schedules (and prices), detours on driving routes due to new road work, and even toll changes.
It might also be a good idea to do a dry run of your commute before your first day back at the office to see if anything significant has changed. Depending on your workplace, Clinton advises adding extra time to allow workplace changes like elevator social distancing requirements and any new check-in procedures.
6. Adjust your sleep schedule
If you’ve gotten into the habit of staying up or sleeping later than you did pre-pandemic, adjusting to an earlier alarm clock setting might take some getting used to. After all, you’ll need to allow time for your back-to-the-office morning routine.
The effects of too little sleep can be significant, too. For example, people with severe insomnia are seven times more likely to have work-related accidents and commuting accidents than good sleepers. Work on adjusting your sleep schedule to match the time you’ll need to get up on office days.
7. Take care of caregiving responsibilities
Caregiving responsibilities have been a big challenge for many families during the pandemic. More than 1 in 10 women reported having to care for a family member, including children and aging relatives, during the past two years, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Organizing care for children and other family members is critical, Heiter says. Because there is so much demand for these services, it may take some time to find caregiving facilities that suit your needs. Across the United States, day care centers have closed, and childcare is at a premium, she says.
8. Ease your pets into the change
Roughly 1 in 5 households adopted a pet during the pandemic, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reports. Pets provided companionship when people were spending more time at home. Now they need a plan B for when their humans go back to the office.
When Clinton had to be out the house for a few hours, he noticed that his dog was anxious when he returned home. “We need to do this in stages and get them to acclimate,” he says. And more families are going to need help with walking dogs and taking care of pets during the day, he says. Make your arrangements for pet care as soon as possible.
9. Figure out your food
Eating is another area that may get trickier — or more expensive — when you go back to the office, Heiter says. Some businesses are avoiding communal food, kitchens or cafeterias. So you may need to think about bringing lunch or making other arrangements. You may also need to do more meal planning and cooking ahead, as starting the prep for a full dinner after a long day’s work may seem exhausting.
10. Talk to your employer about your concerns
Working from home became the norm for many companies as an effort to deter the spread of COVID-19 among employees. Whether you wanted to wipe down your groceries or wear a mask all day, you could protect yourself as much as you wished at home regardless of what your coworkers were doing.
That could change once you return to the office, but your safety should still be a priority for both you and your employer. Heiter says it’s important to discuss company infection prevention policies with your HR department or manager. Determine your comfort level depending on your individual circumstances. Ask about policies regarding harassment in the workplace about vaccination status, mask wearing and other COVID-19-prevention measures.
With a little planning and preparation, you can head back to the office confident and ready to enter this next phase of the workplace.
Gwen Moran is a contributing writer for AARP who specializes in business and finance. Her work has appeared in many leading business publications and websites, including Entrepreneur, Kiplinger.com, Newsweek.com and the Los Angeles Times Magazine.