Dr. Angela Hall: How to smoothly transition from at-home to in-person work

July 12, 2021 - Liz Schondelmayer

With COVID restrictions beginning to lift across the country, many employees are finding themselves being called back into the office after almost over a year and a half of remote work. 

To help those grappling with anxiety and uncertainty surrounding this return to "normal," Dr. Angela Hall, an associate professor in the Michigan State University School of Human Resources and Labor Relations, offers her tips for making the transition from remote to in-person work as smooth and stress-free as possible.

What are some tips for adjusting from a remote work schedule to a "normal" 9-5 schedule? 

  1. Practice! Practice getting up early, putting on your work clothes, and even retracing your commute. Things like that can get you physically and mentally prepared to get back into the office.

  2. Create a daily, a weekly, and even a monthly schedule for yourself that you continuously update to not only hold yourself accountable and stay on track with events and meetings, but get a psychological boost every time you check something off the list, too!

  3. Set new ground rules for interactions with your coworkers. In some offices before the pandemic, hugs and handshakes were totally fine, but now those norms may need to be reconsidered. Just because someone was comfortable with that before doesn't mean they'll be comfortable now, which is why having a conversation about boundaries and comfort zones can help ease those anxieties.

  4. Be generous with your time when scheduling meetings and assigning yourself tasks. Not only will you probably be juggling virtual and in-person meetings, but you may also have a bunch of people coming to your desk to say hello, especially when you first get back in. Realize that you may not be as productive as you think you'll be right away.

  5. Finally, use this transition as an opportunity to hit the reset button. This is an opportunity to revisit and possibly revamp how you do things at work, so try to put a positive spin on that and think of ways to improve your workday. 

What are some tangible ways that employees can practice self-care during the work day in the event that they feel anxious or overwhelmed? 

  1. First of all, know it's totally normal to feel stressed out right now. Just like it was very stressful when we first went home, this is a new kind of stress. Any time there is any kind of major change, that is stressful for human beings, so give yourself some grace and know it's okay to be anxious.

  2. Take time for yourself, even if it's just 5 minutes. Things like practicing meditation, listening to calming music, and going for a walk can make a very big difference!

  3. If you feel comfortable, lean on your coworkers! Research shows that social support acts as a buffer between stressors and actually feeling stressed. Be willing to talk to your coworkers, laugh with them, and commiserate with them - it can be helpful for both of you!

What is your advice to employees regarding eliminating distractions from home, such as remembering in the middle of a meeting that you never unloaded your dishwasher?

While it's been easy to combine your work tasks and household chores for the last year and a half, I think having a separate schedule for work and for home can help you as you move back into an in-person role. Consider adding more structure into your home life by designating separate days for laundry, groceries, meal prepping, et cetera, so that you're not thinking about the chores you have to do at home while you're at work. Also, have a conversation with your family, partner, roommates, or whoever you may live with about how to allocate household chores moving forward. 

In some ways, going back into the office may make it easier to separate home from work, as you'll no longer have distractions such as your dog barking or your doorbell ringing while you're trying to get stuff done. Then, when you leave for the day, you can leave work at work and fully embrace your home life.

For employees who may be asked to come to the office more often than they may be comfortable, what are some good tactics for addressing those concerns with their supervisor?

  1. First of all, be transparent and proactive. Bring your concerns to your boss before you come back to the office full-time, feel miserable and become resentful. Schedule a time to talk and be open and honest about your concerns.

  2. Arm yourself with data. Be prepared to prove your flexibility and productivity with whatever metric you use to measure your success at work, whether that's quotas, numbers, ratings, et cetera. Let your success over the last year and half talk for you.

  3. Explain your reasons behind wanting to continue working from home at least some of the time. Does the quiet environment help you focus? Does the lack of commute allow you to get more things done? Explain how working from home benefits you and your work performance simultaneously.

  4. Finally, predict and address your boss's concerns. Are they worried about maintaining a lively office culture? Are they concerned about productivity? Acknowledge these concerns and show how you plan to address them up-front so they won't be an issue later.

Finally, what are some things employers can do to help their employees transition smoothly back into the office?

  1. Don't expect things to be perfect as soon as people come back. Strongly consider a hybrid model (like working from home three days a week and coming into the office for two days) to ease your employees back into it.

  2. Have regular check-ins with your employees to discuss their comfort levels and individual concerns. Make sure they are still able to perform everyday office duties, like using a photocopier or using their office phone, as these are skills they haven't used in over a year!

  3. If you can, try scheduling meetings for mid-day rather than early in the morning or at the end of the day. That way, as employees are still getting used to waking up early and spending an entire day at the office, they don't miss any important information if they're tired or burned out.

  4. Finally, be open to feedback and employee ideas about how to make the transition smoother and what improvements can be made to make the workplace even better. Keep in mind that even though things may not be exactly how they were before the pandemic, they can still be great in their own way.