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Returning to Work: How to Find Psychological Comfort During Change



Working from home influenced each of us differently. While some found it as an imbalance of work and regular life, some of us created a comfort zone where they felt much more productive, spent more time with their family, and accomplished more work. The pandemic altered our social and business life behavior during these past months.  We started to carry face masks and gloves in our bags. Shaking hands, hugging friends and family seem like a distant memory now. Perhaps, Covid-19 is changing our work-life, as we know it by flexible hours or and different seating arrangements.


A countable amount of increase in returning to the office began with the normalization period. The majority of businesses are implementing rotational office days or shift work to continue their operations. As much it may seem strange to see colleagues distanced in masks first thing on a Monday morning, most of us feel a childish joy similar to returning to school from a long summer holiday.


Returning to the workplace also means another change of routine that will break our current cycle we established over the past months at home. We may feel anxious and go through similar negative emotions as we have since the pandemic started. We might experience feelings of distress about; how it will feel  beingso close to people again, whether we forgot about our work duties, how we will cope with new pressures in our business life, and what kind of precautions we have to take in the workplace or even the way we have lunch. Simultaneously, we are experiencing feelings of excitement to go out again and go back to things as they were. However, concepts and words that newly got into our daily lives like “social distance” or “mask” remind us that something is still surreal and unfamiliar to us. This particularly may cause feelings of anxiety, as we still don’t know how to return to our old habits when we still have to adjust to these new concepts.


The best way to adjust to the new normal and to get out of our safe zones after weeks is to do it in stages over the transition period. Previously mentioned in my article on cognitive overload, it might be unrealistic to reach our old habits and performance from one day to another. As research from Dortmund University Psychology Department shows, for an effective adjustment process, it is best to return to work and social life in stages. Hence, when going out or doing other activities instead of labeling these as “safe” or “dangerous,” we might need to tolerate the grey zones in our lives more now and remind ourselves that we cannot eliminate all risks, but can only minimize it.


Therefore, a workplace where the risk of contamination of the virus is minimized by taking all necessary hygiene precautions, separate workgroups/shifts, and physical distancing will create more psychological safety for the employees. Similar to the past weeks, one of the key aspects currently as well, is to protect ourselves not only from the physical but also from the psychological virus. Below are some other methods that might help during the adaption and transition process to the new work culture:

  • Stay connected: Sharing our thoughts and feelings over a cup of coffee or having a chat with colleagues can help to deal with stress and anxiety relief. Especially seeing that most of us are going through the same emotions is a great support system. Additionally, having a brief meeting before returning to the office with your team can also help you take your anxiety under control and find answers to your questions.

  • Knowing creates a sense of control: Preparing for the first day at work, creating a to-do list, and going over our previous notes and procedures can help us gain a sense of control over the unknown new work routine.

  • One step at a time: We gained new habits and found out new ways to do our job during the past months we spent at home. Meaning that we need to give ourselves the time and take baby steps to remember old habits and the way we tackled the workday. After all, the most persistent changes are those that take time and turn into automatized behaviors.

  • Monitor the progress: Especially in the first days, it might be a good idea to track our progress at work. Analyzing our progress, what we have accomplished so far, and what we could improve more about ourselves can help during the adaptation process and create a sense of confidence.

  • Eat, sleep, and rest: Going into another cycle of eating and sleeping habits along with the process where we return to the office is relatively normal. We woke up, ate, and rested at different times during the days at home. Hence, the first few days at work, away from our home office setting, might feel particularly exhausting, and we may find ourselves fatigued even after a regular day. Here it might help to rest and eat well effectively.

  • Keep the creatures of comfort: Keeping old habits of comfort such as having a cup of coffee during a certain time of the day, listening to music, or even taking a walk can provide us a safe zone amid change.


According to psychologists Fredrickson & Branigan (2005), groups that share similar positive feelings of hope, excitement, and inspiration cope better with adversity and sudden change. As much as it is difficult for us to face rapid and continuous change, going through similar emotions and experiencing similar events together helps us manage the adversity better. In this transition period, to better adapt to social and work life, it is vital to support each other and ask for advice if needed in such turbulent times. Instead of seeing things as absolute “black” or “white,” it is better to enjoy the grey zones and act precautious in order to minimize the possible risk in our actions.




References:

Fredrickson, Barbara & Branigan, Christine. (2005). Positive Emotions Broaden the Scope of Attention and Thought-action Repertoires. Cognition & emotion. 19. 313-332. 10.1080/02699930441000238.