There are a host of effective routines that have been lost in the sudden switch to remote work during the pandemic. As many workers prepare for the return to the office, they need to pick up on the routines they’ve lost and manage their time well.
Here are some recommended steps to reduce apprehension. Much has changed over the past year. Imagine your workday and the logistical details, from the moment you wake up to what you eat, pack and wear. Put it on paper, then check your assumptions. Examine the routines you participated in during the pandemic – exercise and housework – and identify where they should fit in your new schedule. Consolidate all of this information in one place. Finally, think about any more important logistics you need to sort out before you return to work, such as renewing parking passes, planning your transit route, and preparing meals.
After the massive exodus from cabin country in 2020, millions of people are returning to the office in 2021. For those who have savored their lifestyle without a commute to work, there is a sense of dread and hope to negotiate a permanent (or at least hybrid) remote control arrangement. For others who have found working from home difficult, there is anticipation but still a twinge of uncertainty as to how life will work out when they return to work.
As a time management coach, I have helped my clients manage their “first day back to work” by teaching them how to prepare for a smooth and successful transition. I find it helpful to start with a question: What effective routines have you lost when suddenly switching to remote working? In order to handle the added complexity of working in the office, you will need to recover the routines that have helped you feel prepared and manage your time well. Here are some of the steps you can take to reduce your apprehension about change.
Start by visualizing your days at the office from start to finish. Focus on the details. For example:
- When will you get up
- What should you include in your morning routine (think about your family, pets, and other responsibilities)?
- When will you go through the door?
- What will you do for lunch?
- When are you going to come home?
- What will your evenings be like (making dinner, exercising, doing laundry, etc.)?
- When are you going to bed
Think about every little detail that needs to happen to make the whole system work and put it on paper. You probably had a lot of these one-science routines in early 2020, but after a year-long hiatus, you’ll need to consciously retrain your brain on how to carry out all of those little activities that are part of your work schedule.
After writing what you thought will happen in your schedule, check your assumptions. For example, look at the train schedule to see what times it is running right now. The schedule has probably changed. Or check your GPS for the time you think you need to leave for the office to see how long it takes to get to the current traffic levels. If you intend to use your office cafeteria or local restaurants for meals, check that they will be open. Don’t assume everything is as you left it. Check everything.
Once you’ve checked the current reality and updated your list accordingly, review your schedule to make sure you haven’t missed any details. Did you take the time to choose an outfit – as well as shower, brush your teeth and make yourself presentable? Do you remember how long it takes to walk to the station? If you are making lunch, have you taken the time to prepare it? If you must use the laundry, have you found one that is still open, and how long will it take to collect the clothes? Do you need more weekend meal prep before weekday dinners? Do you need to write instructions for your nanny or older children while you are away? Managing all of those moving parts after so many months where your biggest concern was finding a sufficiently clean shirt can be overwhelming. Remember, if you get back to your routine early, you will be more than prepared once your first day arrives.
There are a lot of routines that you will need to reintegrate into your life – some of which you may have forgotten during the pandemic. Certain personal activities such as exercising, washing dishes, washing clothes or shopping that may have slipped into your working hours will have to be resumed at lunch or after work.
Take all of this information and consolidate it in one place. Put it in a Word document, create a checklist on your phone, or add recurring reminders to your calendar. Exactly how you document your routines is not as important as having all of these in one place. Over time, your routines will become natural and you can probably give up on the list. But to get started, you’ll need to check out these instructions for use on how to make your day run smoothly every day.
Once you have decided on your initial schedule of how you will manage your days once you get back to the office, start thinking about special projects you will need to complete before you return. Here are some key boxes to check the month before resuming your commute:
- Go over your work wardrobe to make sure you have what you need, that it fits you and that it is clean.
- Get an up-to-date parking card.
- Plan your meals for the first week or two back to the office – and even consider making meals in the freezer if you’re worried about the evening rush.
- Discuss any changes in expectations with your spouse and other household members about when you will be home and what they are expected to do while you are away, such as taking the dog out or doing the dishes.
- Consider any membership in places near your office that it might be a good idea to renew, such as a gym, museum, or club.
- Start going to bed earlier. Many people have switched to a later sleep schedule, so you will need to retrain your body to sleep and wake up earlier.
Returning to the office will be a big change for many workers. By following these steps, you can avoid unnecessary stress; like waking up the first day, realizing that you can’t find your dress shoes and missing the train because it is now leaving 10 minutes earlier. Completing this preparation can make the day-to-day basics of the transition less stressful, allowing you to focus on all other elements of your face-to-face return to work.