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Back to Work:

A how-to guide for a safe, healthy return to office life


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Remember morning commutes, watercooler chats and birthday lunches?

After a year and a half of seeing co-workers only on screens, and replacing business suits with sweatpants, it’s easy to forget what working in the “real world” is like.

As restrictions continue to lift and the country reopens, many Canadians working remotely are expecting to return to their office, wondering what awaits them and worrying about how they will adjust to the changes. In fact, a poll by KPMG found that over half (54%) of Canadians who have been working remotely are feeling anxious about returning.

If that describes you, here are some ways to manage your stress and transition to the new — or back to the not-so-new — work environment with confidence.

Stick to it. Did you develop a new habit or take up a new hobby during the pandemic? Whatever helped you get through this time, make it permanent and include it in your daily work schedule. If you took noon-hour walks while working at home, do the same when you are at the office. A walk around the block or a quick 30-minute workout over lunch are great ways to give your creativity a boost, recharge for the rest of the day and ease the transition to the new — or back to the not-so-new — work environment.

Get back to the basics. Staying active, eating well and getting a good night’s sleep are all foundational to mental and physical health. Not only will these activities help keep your mind sharp and your body fit, they will also help build your resilience and readiness to head back to the office.

Mind your mind. Make your mental wellbeing a top priority. If thoughts of attending face-to-face meetings, using a common kitchen area or shared washroom, even being in your office building itself causes you anxiety, speak to your manager. Your employer may be able to accommodate a gradual return to work to match your comfort level.

Talk about it. We’re emerging from a long period of isolation and social distancing that has taken a heavy toll on our mental wellbeing. It’s beneficial to create a support network of family, friends or co-workers – people you can trust to have conversations about your mental health. When we become more open and comfortable discussing our concerns, we increase our ability to face challenges and bounce back from a hard time.

Seek help. According to a survey by the Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health release, just under one in five Canadians (19.5%) sought professional help for their mental health concerns. Don’t let this be you. If your worries about a return to office life begin to overwhelm you, and interfere with your ability to function, connect with a mental health expert immediately. If you are experiencing mild to moderate depression, consider in-person or online to cognitive behavioural therapy to change thinking patterns and develop problem-solving skills.

Protect yourself and others. Even if you are fully vaccinated, continue to adhere to public health measures and follow your organization’s protocols. Masking, hand sanitizing and disinfecting workstations will continue to help protect your health and those around you while helping everyone be more at ease with the transition back to an office.

Protect your time. The lines between personal and professional life have blurred while working at home, adding to the stress of an already stressful situation. If you’re going back to an office, make sure you separate the two by saying “no” to non-emergency requests after work hours.

Establish a new routine. A lot of us need structure in our lives to allow us to focus, free us from distractions and increase our productivity. You can achieve this by following a daily routine, especially one starting with “me time.” Some light stretching or a short meditation can help us find our centre and put us in the right headspace for the day.

By following these best health practices, we can get back to the daily rhythm of office life that was disrupted by COVID-19 and make the light we are beginning to see at the end of the long pandemic that much brighter.