how can I ease the transition back to working from the office?

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

As many offices start to bring employees back, what do you recommend employees do to ease the transition back into the office? Both for themselves and their colleagues? I miss the office, but I’ve gotten really settled into my 100% telework life and I know it’s going to be rough going back.

Readers who have already made this transition — or are making it now — what have you found helpful?

{ 315 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Hi all, this discussion is for people are going back / have gone back — please don’t hijack it to discuss remote work/the benefits of staying remote.

  2. GigglyPuff*

    I’ve started trying to get up every day at the same time. Whether I’m working from home or not. I’m doing partial WFH and partial office, so having a better set schedule for my day seems to help. Wish I’d started it sooner though, lol.

  3. glitter writer*

    I’m planning not to go 100% back, and not to do my full time all at once, either. My employer is being very supportive of a hybrid plan so I’m going to start by going in just one day a week (starting in October), and then working up to two and eventually three. I think the first day is going to feel jarring, and that everything will feel strange for several months until everyone has found their rhythm and we know how work “feels,” but I’m sure we’ll adapt.

    1. Esmeralda*

      I thought the first day would be jarring too, but in fact it was exciting. Did not get much work done, too much chatting (with masks, at a distance) with coworkers.

      1. OHCFO*

        I feel like we have to be really intentional about naming and supporting some of the things that made WFH attractive in some orgs—like uninterrupted time to focus, flexible schedules, less superfluous travel, fewer “standing” meetings, less formal dress requirements, etc. My work is “back” in person now, but we have definitely embraced reducing the amount that we travel forward things that could well be done on Zoom. In the long-term, embracing changes like these could benefit all types of organizations & professions.

          1. OP Here*

            OP here- I think your organization hit on some of the things I’d like mine to do, especially embracing the technology we’ve all gotten used to using over the past 18 months and using it even in the office.

        1. Mimi*

          One caveat to this is that zoom meetings where multiple people on the same team each call into the same meeting from different machines in the same room do NOT work well, at least for some people. We’re all wearing headphones and very aggressive about muting, so that isn’t an issue, but I find the discordance of listening to a colleague in person an a half-beat out-of-sync over zoom to be extremely unpleasant and exhausting.

          1. Now In the Job*

            WOOF that one’s a big no! I hope more places set up their conference rooms to be Zoom/Teams friendly. Our systems are such that when you invite a conference room to a Teams meeting, you can “join” the meeting from the room, which puts your remote colleagues on one screen and your other documents on the other. It’s a nice way to integrate both without that sort of hiccup.

          2. Teaching*

            Try it with a class of 7th graders, 1/2 at home! I wanted to read a play and include the home kids. With some fancy muting skills we made it work. Crazy!

      2. H2*

        I very much found this to be true, too. The first little bit was weird—and I started back a whole year ago, which was stressful. But very shortly we found that it felt really good to be around people and to have a little bit of normalcy. I think it really helped our interactions with each other. Things felt fine way faster than I thought they would!

    2. generic_username*

      My first day back was fun and exciting but I got absolutely nothing done, lol. I have a feeling this is going to be common for everyone.

      There was also this weird song and dance around how cautious to be around all of my coworkers – we’re all vaccinated, but some were obviously more nervous than others. So it was a whole new experience of trying to read cues and figure out how close you could stand to someone or how much they wanted to talk to you face-to-face. I actually had a few virtual social calls with coworkers in the next office so we could just chat easily and safely.

      1. LunaLena*

        I think mileage may vary on this. My office is somewhat remote and isolated and I only have one office mate. I also dislike working remotely (too many distractions at home, blurring of lines between work and home, etc). I actually get a lot more done my first day back.

        I did return gradually, though, starting with three days in office a week, then slowly upped it to five days a week. I’ve been in office full-time for about a month now, and it actually wasn’t too difficult to fall back into my old groove. I think I’d actually be chagrined if we were all sent home again. My workplace is mandating masks indoors and most meetings are still conducted via Teams, especially since many people are doing the hybrid model, but that’s really been the only change to my normal routines.

      2. SimplytheBest*

        Same. My office also had a crazy amount of turnover during the pandemic so I am actually the only person other than senior leadership who worked here before the pandemic so there was a *lot* of just getting to know each other chatter the first day back. Our bosses were very sweet and planned a whole welcome orientation day with food and gifts and a tour. They pretty much told us don’t expect to work much that first day.

      3. SC in NC*

        Our office had colored wrist bands for people to choose. I’m paraphrasing but the categories were something like still maintaining my distance, welcome a fist bump or elbow and ready for handshakes and hugs. It was an easy cue for people to know how to treat co-workers without having to ask.

        1. Still Feeling Cautious*

          Oh, that’s a wonderful idea! I think that could take away a lot of the awkwardness of dealing with different comfort levels.

    3. Hazel*

      The biggest change for me is making sure I get to bed early enough, and I strongly recommend that for those of us who are not used to it.

      I’m trying to do a hybrid schedule, and I’ve been successful twice, but it’s so much easier to work from home. At the same time, it’s better for my mental health to shower, get dressed, and be around people, so I am making the effort.

      This is a new office for me because I was hired during the pandemic, and for the foreseeable future, each team only has two days per week that they can come in because we’re sharing desks with the folks that come in on our off days. I think this is to preserve physical distance in the office. I was used to having storage at my desk for shoes, snacks, my ergonomic keyboard, pens, etc., so I jumped at the chance to reserve a locker for those things.

    4. Cat Tree*

      I’m returning to work next week from maternity leave just as we’re transitioning to in-person work. But our department is hybrid with 3 days a week in-person. I’m also staggering my maternity leave because I get a lot of it and can use it however I want within the first year. After 3 months off I’m ready to go back, but it will be 3 days a week for two months, and then 4 days a week for several months. So overall I’ll be in the office 1 or 2 days per week. I actually prefer being on-site, but it’s still a major change so I’m glad I can ease into it.

  4. Now In the Job*

    If you can, try to go back gradually. It’s a LOT more social interaction that you’re used to, so if you can start with 2 days, then 3, then 4, then 5 across four weeks, it makes the ramp up of socialization a lot easier. It’s one thing if you’re going out on the weekend and getting social then, it’s something entirely different when you’re back in the office and “tuned in” to social interaction basically constantly.

    Try on your clothing. Buy new stuff if you need it. The day going back is not the time to realize your work pants don’t fit anymore.

    Don’t expect yourself to fall right back into the same work cycles that you had in the beforetimes. Your rhythm has changed, and it’ll take some time to get used to that. Maybe you’ll get back to it. Maybe you won’t. But now is also a great time to try to incorporate those parts of routine you always wanted to do but struggled to incorporate, like packing lunches more regularly instead of eating out.

    Be careful with the coffee if you haven’t been drinking it the way you did in the beforetimes.

    It’s going to feel like you’re working less. That’s okay, especially those of us who have picked back up long commutes that we spent working during the pandemic.

    1. Taskmistress*

      Yes to all of this! I’ve been back since June (higher ed) and it was helpful to manage my own expectations that things wouldn’t magically snap back to normal. This is a great time to look at your old routines and see what you want to keep and what you want to change.

      And most importantly, advocate for yourself and what you need. No “return to work” plan will be one-size-fits-all (even if they tout it as such) so stay attuned to what you’re experiencing and what you need.

      Also, Old Navy sells cotton work pants with elastic waistbands that have come in clutch for me!

      1. Bacu1a*

        Second Old Navy pants for ladies!

        I’ve gone back once, and definitely picked my outfit the night before so I didn’t have to worry about it.

    2. Alice*

      The gradual approach is good for getting used to socialization for sure. But my company seems to be hoping that a period of partial WFH will ease “anxieties” about COVID safety.
      Following CDC and ASHRAE recommendations is what will ease my “anxieties” re safety!

    3. Ori*

      “Be careful with the coffee”

      Excellent advice. I went in to train my replacement. 3 cups of coffee are… too much for me now.

    4. HarvestKaleSlaw*

      This is good advice. I’ve been gradually going back a couple of days a week, and definitely getting ready for work is taking longer than it used to – I don’t remember what I used to wear to work; I don’t know what the fashions are now; I forgot how to makeup; I forget what shoes go with things.

      And everyone is at the same time socially awkward and starved for human interaction. So especially the first few weeks back, I would have these days crammed with these desperate-feeling, exhausting, warm-yet-extremely-uncomfortable social interactions.

      Basically – nobody remembers how to normal.

      1. working mom*

        I love everything you’ve said because it’s so so true. I too forgot how to dress myself and put makeup on. Socializing with humans ensured I got no actual work done in my first days and weeks back to the office.

        1. McS*

          For me the biggest issues going back on a a hybrid schedule were learning the train schedule (different than before), getting out of the house on time and bringing everything! A list helps, but I’m also still adjusting to not having the same whiteboard for quick notes and reminders every day and not sure whether I should commit to a notebook and then remember to pack it or move notes entirely onto my computer, which means I get Slack notifications during 1-on-1s.

    5. ThatGirl*

      Yeah, I started with just going in for half a day to see my new office (’cause I hadn’t been there yet!) and got a tour, and went home after lunch. Then went in a couple days… now I’m up to 3 days a week and it’s honestly nice to have the dedicated workspace and see a few people, but it’s also still pretty quiet. There will eventually be a return to having most people work three days a week from the office, but that’s been pushed back thanks to delta.

    6. too many too soon*

      My commute is the worst problem so far. I’m lucky enough to be approved for a hybrid schedule, but I’m still coming in 5 mornings a week, 45 minutes each way. I’m hoping I can change it to at least one day entirely remote once the family logistics that necessitate my fall schedule resolve.

    7. MagnusArchivist*

      Yes to all of this, but especially go going back gradually, over a few months. I threw myself from 100% WFH to 5 full days in the office + an hour-long commute on public transit and it has absolutely leveled me. I can’t believe I used to do this PLUS work out PLUS cook dinner PLUS see friends etc etc. I’ve been back for 2 months and am still hitting a wall every day at 4 where suddenly I am drained & my brain just shuts down.
      Very much looking forward to my body and brain readjusting and getting back to being a functional adult after 5 pm.

      1. Brrrrr*

        Me too, I’ve been back in the office full-time for more than 2 months and still by 4pm I’m ready to crash. By 5pm when I’m leaving the traffic is insane (back-to-school traffic plus a whole lot of construction = congestion) and by 5:30ish when I get home I can barely carry on a 2 sentence conversation. I definitely need more sleep! I did find yesterday that getting myself out into a bit of nature helped considerably. It was only for about 20 minutes and it was just in my backyard, but I was digging potatoes and so interacting with the plants and soil – and I immediately felt more clear-headed and energetic.

      2. Jaydee*

        Yeah, it’s exhausting! I think I had an easier transition than I could have because I have gone in off-and-on over the whole time we’ve been remote, anywhere from 1x/month to 1-2 days a week. So I still had to have work clothes that fit, still had to get up earlier to pack a lunch and so my hair and makeup, etc. When school started the end of August, I came back to the office 4 days a week.

        It was still a huge adjustment adding all that stuff back in each morning. Not gonna lie, I was borderline panicking the couple weeks before returning to the office. Also, I missed the interaction with my co-workers so much, but when you’re first coming back everyone wants to talk to you. That first week I was soooo tired every night, and I was “peopled-out” and could tell I was avoiding conversation with my husband and son more because I just couldn’t take any more talking. It’s getting better.

        I’m still trying to figure out how to keep up with all the home stuff plus all the work stuff, but oddly even though it’s harder than when I was WFH, I think I’m doing better at it now than pre-pandemic? Probably because I sucked at it before and never really had a work schedule that allowed me to do both work and home reasonably well. So a year+ of WFH let me build routines around cleaning, cooking, shopping, exercise, family time, etc. that I didn’t previously have. Now I’m in the “mush both parts together phase” I guess? Like when you play piano and you learn the left hand part and then the right hand part and then you try to combine them.

    8. myswtghst*

      “Try on your clothing. Buy new stuff if you need it.”

      This is so important (and so easy to overlook). During these COVID times, I moved and got pregnant, and so even the stuff that fits has been packed in totes and is a wrinkled mess. It is not fun trying to come up with a work-appropriate outfit at the last minute, and it’s so much easier to deal with the stress of going back when you’re not in too-tight pants and a wrinkly sweater you don’t like much.

      1. Lizzie*

        OMG so true! I knew we were going back, and thankfully we are very casual so i only had to buy a couple pairs of jeans, and that was it. Going back one day right now is wonderful; i only have to come up with one decent outfit a week, and with it being so quiet, i can even repeat!

        1. McS*

          I am starting to feel like the people who see me in the office think I only own a few shirts. I am going in 1-2 days a week and my work shirts don’t overlap with home ones, so I wear the same few over and over again. Wore a t-shirt today just to mix it up.

          1. allathian*

            I bet most people don’t even notice what you’re wearing. I certainly never notice what others are wearing, unless it’s a particularly cool outfit.

            Before the pandemic, I routinely wore the same pair of jeans for a week and the same shirt/blouse for two days straight, and I don’t think people noticed. If they did, nobody certainly said anything to my face, and if I’m honest, I don’t particularly care if they’re thinking judgey thoughts about me as long as I don’t know about it.

      2. Tupac Coachella*

        I had lost a not-insignificant amount of weight through 2018-19, and had recently bought quite a few new work pieces when COVID hit. While on quarantine, I gained about 20 pounds…for my size and build just enough that most of my barely worn work pants no longer fit. Luckily I still had a few pieces from the size I am now, but I’ve still had to buy clothes again now that I’m back in the office full time. What I really underestimated was the emotional impact of realizing my clothes didn’t fit. Even though I knew intellectually that I’d gained weight, a lot of my casual clothes can comfortably span several sizes, while my work clothes tend to be more structured. Trying on outfit after outfit and realizing that I was so much bigger than I had been brought up some unexpected emotions. I’d lost the weight intentionally and it took a long time (very much a lifestyle change that COVID derailed). Not fitting my clothes felt like a major setback, and it made me feel insecure to go back to the office feeling like I looked sloppy and unprofessional. I’ve had to work a lot harder to be kind to myself about my weight (and my appearance as a whole) since going back to the office, and that is not something I expected.

        1. myswtghst*

          Definitely feel you on this. While my weight gain is for a different reason, it still is hard to not fit into the things that made me feel confident at work pre-pandemic, especially when I’m usually in the office to meet with people in person.

          “[…] a lot of my casual clothes can comfortably span several sizes, while my work clothes tend to be more structured.”

          This is a great point too. Most of what I’ve been wearing in quarantine is pretty forgiving, but the more polished stuff I wear to work (even when it’s just dark wash jeans and a t-shirt with a jacket or cardigan) tends to not have as much stretch.

        2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

          Yes. Having clothing that fits well makes a huge difference. I still need to get more work pants to replace my prepandemic ones that don’t fit (some of which didn’t fit prepandemic but I now tolerate tight pants less!). It can go either way with weight changes, too. I lost a ton of weight postpartum and my prepregnancy clothes fit all wrong even with belts. I felt like a slob and like my body wasn’t MY body, and it made going back to work so much harder. A single shopping trip made a huge difference in my mood every morning.

      3. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

        Yup! I found out uncomfortably close to transitioning back that none of my pants fit me at all. I have since bought new pants, but for a while I exclusively wore dresses.

      4. Perfectly Cromulent Name*

        Even if everything fits, wash it if you have not worn it in awhile. My clothes all had this…dusty…smell to them. They were clean when I put them away in March 2020, but I had not touched them since!

    9. Jules the 3rd*

      Five years ago, I went from 100% wfh back to the office, and I agree with all of this. The one addition:
      Give yourself extra time on the first two week’s commute. Traffic has changed a lot, it will take a while to get used to it again. Expect traffic to keep changing as more people go back to work.

      In the US, though: If you do not feel safe going back, push back on your office. I worked in a large open work space, with assigned seating, and my seat was next to the main aisle, three (out of 12) cross aisles from the door. A *lot* of people stopped near my desk for their morning chats. I told my boss that if he wanted me back, he’d have to move me away from the aisle.

    10. giraffecat*

      Yes! The increased socialization is what got me when people started going back to the office. I’ve been going into the office a couple days a week for a while now, but most everyone else was still working from home. During the past year I could go 2-3 days without talking to another person at all, so now coming into the office and talking with 5-6 people in one day was a lot! I was surprised at how much that exhausted me.

      1. allathian*

        That’s what I’m actually most anxious about when I’m thinking about an eventual return to the office. One thing I noticed immediately when we transitioned to WFH was that I was so much less tired after a workday, even with Covid-related anxiety, especially at the very start of the pandemic. I’m a chatty introvert, which means that I get a lot of enjoyment out of talking to people, but it also drains me. The older I get, the longer it takes me to recover from being peopled out, so I’m becoming more selective about when I’m willing to put up with it.

        That said, I am looking forward to meeting our new hires in person for the first time at some point this fall. My team has acquired 3 new members during WFH, including my current manager, and before the end of the year we’re hiring 2 more.

    11. SimplytheBest*

      Agree to the gradual approach. I started going back in August on a three day a week in person hybrid schedule and I have found it *exhausting*. I’m just not used to leaving my house very much! So what used to be a normal day now feels like an event. That’s definitely lessening as the weeks go by, but that first week especially was tough.

    12. Thursdaysgeek*

      See, the gradually part doesn’t work for me. I don’t want to have to lug the laptop, power supply, headset, keyboard (because I prefer it to the laptop keyboard), docking station, etc. back and forth and back and forth. Some co-workers only had PCs before, and because it was hard to get laptops, probably still have their PCs at home.

      When I moved back to the office, I also had to bring back 2 monitors, but I do have a monitor at home I can snag for an occasional work at home day now.

      1. Jaydee*

        This is what actually prompted me to go back 4 days a week when school started instead of just a couple days a week like I had been doing off-and-on. I got so sick of lugging my laptop and whatever else I needed back and forth and having to set everything up each day. Now I take my laptop home Tuesday night, bring it back Thursday morning and don’t have to think about it until the next Tuesday.

        I’m kind of excited to have a chance to actually “move-in” to my office (they were renovated last summer, and all my stuff is here, but only about 20% of it is not in a file box).

        I’m also excited to clean and organize my home office (I haven’t felt right doing it during work hours because it’s home stuff, but I also had no desire to even be in my office on the weekends because I spend 40+ hours there already each week).

      2. Quidge*

        I also went immediately to 4 out of 4 days in-office when I made the switch – I also HATED WfH and was really struggling without structure and dedicated/quiet workspace, so YMMV. It’s definitely taken a bit of time to get used to the new-old routine, but I think doing it gradually would just have meant I had to adjust several times over rather than once!

        Also, going back early, when ~1% of us were coming in, meant getting used to a huge empty open-plan and Covid-safety changes. Now I’m having to adjust again to having people around me and the restrictions lifted (though we’re averaging 10-25% occupancy, that’s a big change for those of us used to Fridays alone in a 200-person space!).

    13. OP Here*

      I like the gradual suggestion! I wonder though how many offices are willing to gradually ramp things up when it feels like a lot of businesses are chomping at the bit to get people back in (or were before Delta hit).

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        A surprising number of offices are open to “I use wfh to really dig into those projects that require a lot of concentration. No water cooler chats, no one stopping by my office just to check in, I can really focus.”

    14. Bee*

      We started with one day a week back in June and are now up to two (partly to ease in, but mostly to keep people spaced out in the office as a safety measure), and this has been huge. I could not have gone to full-time socializing AND everyday commuting from full-time remote, I’m already so tired! One day a week was particularly great, because I could afford to just buy my breakfast & lunch every time I went in. Having a little treat like that eased the transition, too.

      I have really enjoyed getting to see my coworkers in person again, but I did not miss the commute at all.

  5. Generic Elf*

    My employer has since implemented an official hybrid schedule of 2 days WFH and 3 days in office for those who were previously 100% remote. Some positions never went remote at all and remain that way.

  6. Betty*

    I went back in July for a month until Delta led my company to re-evaluate that. I focused on the stuff that was better about the office than home– in particular, listening to podcasts on the commute and getting lunch out. I also found wearing real clothes a little daunting (I had a pandemic baby so hadn’t worn a real waistband since September 2019!), but spent some time identifying my favorites and mostly just rotated through those.

    1. Maglev to Crazytown*

      I am in a group that was considered essential, and able to work a hybrid schedule throughout (depending on work needs, a week could be either 100% remote or 100% onsite). This summer in consideration of effective remote was for some roles, everyone was assigned their new work schedule (back 100%, hybrid or 100% remote) which was supposed to go into effect after Labor Day.

      They canceled the return plans everyone was mentally adapting to, due to rising COVID rates again. The hardest thing our people are dealing with right now is the uncertainty, as many had come to terms with their new schedule starting this week, and now everything is up in the air again. Readjustment is daunting enough and a challenge people were preparing for, but now we are just day-by-day again, plus coworkers having to adapt to kids who were supposed to go back to fulltime school but districts are intermittently closing due to COVID rates.

      1. NotSoEvilHRLady*

        My division (I work at a state agency in HR) was slated to go back approximately after Labor Day, but due to the rising COVID cases and leadership changes it’s been pushed back indefinitely. The uncertainty is very difficult for me, as I am a person who needs a daily routine, whether that continues to be WFH or back in the office, and not knowing a more concrete date is mentally taxing.

        1. Maglev to Crazytown*

          There are so many people in similar boats, or who are like the question-asker and trying to plan on adapting that transition. Unfortunately many of these will be in the same position of either being in the middle of easing back into it in a way that makes sense to their situation, or setting a strategy to place for that transition… Only for that return to “new office normal” to be deferred to next spring most likely.

          I think it is almost premature for companies to be rushing headlong into transitions right now, when we have the government itself warning about a hard winter ahead with COVID. It is a waste of resources to amp people up to come back, only to send them back remote again, as well as an overall disruption to the business.

  7. Ms. Hagrid Frizzle*

    Having grace for yourself and colleagues will be essential. At my office, everyone spent the first few days just getting back in the groove, catching up with work friends, and working to get set back up in their office. So there was a lot of desk/phone tag as people wandered and email response times were slow for a few days. Our IT team also was heavily burdened the first weeks of our return as staff finally asked for computer updates or tried to get extra monitors at their desks, so have patience.

    “Read the room” on whether people want to chat in the halls or linger in each other’s offices and how people feel about distancing.

    I would also recommend bringing something from home to sit on your desk that makes you smile/feel relaxed. Maybe it’s bringing back a family picture or a little knicknack that reminds you of your dog – something to acknowledge that the transition is emotionally draining as well as just disruptive to the work flow.

    1. ReMote ReLiable ReCeptionista*

      I’m seeing a through line of “have some grace” in these comments, and that is SO important. We started our official hybrid schedule this week and on the first day one of the managers complained to me about a newer staff member (hired during remote operations) chatting with other staff and “distracting” them. I was able to gently talk him out of saying anything to the new staff member right away, and into waiting a week or two instead to see if it’s an ongoing issue (I suspect it won’t be). I know the manager was just anxious about How Things Look (we all want the hybrid arrangement to be visibly successful, so we have a strong case for keeping it long term) but can you imagine getting that feedback from your supervisor on the very first day you get to meet your coworkers in person? Morale tanker for sure! We really gotta be chill about these things for a bit. Especially if a major Official Justification for returning to the office was “camaraderie and bonding”! Let people enjoy seeing each other, it’s really a good problem to have.

    2. Guacamole Bob*

      Our organization had a bunch of office space changes related to some construction, and we’ve definitely been trying to ramp up gradually and give each other grace about IT and facilities. Someone went in for the first time the other day to find her office had no power, another person is switching back and forth between a desktop at home and a tablet in the office and is having synching issues, someone’s standing desk got moved, someone changed to a new department and is trying to track down his old special office chair, some folks were hired after the pandemic started and don’t know where anything is, etc.

      Thinking of returning to the office as a process rather than a one-time switch to be flipped has been important in our case. We can’t just continue our work totally uninterrupted but in a different location, we have to allow some time to handle these additional logistical tasks associated with getting set up to work in a place where we haven’t been working regularly for 18 months.

      1. Cedarcatt*

        I’ve been “back” 4 days a week since June. I am still exhausted, stressed, and just don’t have the level of concentration and energy I used to. That “couple days of grace” needs to be in the scale of weeks or months. Some of my coworkers are seemingly back into the groove but others are like me and we have to occasionally remind people that we’re doing our best, but a lot has changed. Just keep in mind that not everyone wants to be back in the office and give them space to not be “on” all the time. I am lucky to have a door I can close when it gets too much to be around others.

  8. AnonAgain*

    Just jumping all in from day one worked for me, while a coworker got permission to start the transition gradually (a few hours a few days a week, then a few full days a week) so they were at 100% by the return to work date. We had 30 days notice of the return to work date.

    1. allathian*

      Ugh, that “return to work date” really rubs me the wrong way, because it implies that people were just slacking off while WFH…

  9. Inot*

    My office (university department) implemented a hybrid schedule to ease us back into working in person, which has been helpful. Is that something your office can do? We are student-facing so the idea is by October we will shift to 4 days in, 1 day out.

  10. Alice*

    When I first went back, I made a mistake – I scheduled the client meetings I normally do without blocking off any time to hang out with co-workers. That was a mistake – I think some people thought I was unfriendly as a result. I’m not, honest – I just have a lot of work to do.

    1. Generic Name*

      Ooh, this brings up another aspect of scheduling meetings. If you are having any in-person meetings, keep in mind the transit time between meetings. It’s easy to go from meeting to meeting via Teams, but if you have to walk to different meeting rooms, it’s really impractical to have back to back meetings.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, but unless you have several buildings like on a college campus, or a whole skyscraper, at least at my office that was never any problem. If you showed up 5 minutes late because you needed to go to the bathroom before your next meeting, people understood that. Usually, though, people who had back to back meetings would give a heads-up at the first one, so they could leave a few minutes early while others were wrapping things up.

        Virtual meetings in my org often run overtime unless someone has another meeting right afterwards, but when most people are working at the office, our meeting rooms are so fully booked that they can’t run late.

    2. Marion Ravenwood*

      Yep. My team is going back to the office one day a week for the foreseeable future, and yesterday was the first one. It was like the first day back at school – even though we’ve all seen each other on Zoom and Teams meetings all the time since March last year, the whole thing of seeing everyone and catching up and having a chat took up way more time than I thought it would and I did not have a productive day (but equally, after six months home alone in my flat and then almost a year of working out of my bedroom/living room in houseshares before that, it was really lovely to have actual in-person interaction with my colleagues again!).

      One of our managers arranged for tea and cake at the end of the day and we did go to the pub afterwards, which also helped, and I think now we’ve all got it out of our systems a bit things will calm down in the next few weeks. But I think factoring in that time for everyone to see each other and get used to the social aspects of working alongside other humans again is really important.

  11. Mostly Managing*

    My husband has been wfh for most of the last two years.
    He started a new job last month – partly because of how old company was handling covid – and the return to office plan in the new company is great.

    There are a few things that make it stand out:

    1. People who are not enjoying wfh are being prioritized to go back in. Not everyone likes wfh, and the company gets that!

    2. By the end of Oct, everyone will be in the office two days a week. But also, vaccine is mandatory. If you can’t be vaccinated, they are encouraged to work with management to continue wfh for the time being.

    3. Food trucks. Sounds silly, but every few weeks they have a food truck in the parking lot at lunch time. Connecting face to face outdoors and relaxed makes being in the office again less scary.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      We are vaccine optional which is stressful. But they did buy lunch once a week, which was cool.

    2. The New Wanderer*

      #3 is not silly at all! :-) Our office is open for people to go in at varying rates (2x a week is expected, up to full time for people who prefer that), but the cafeteria is not going to open for quite some time. We do have a large snack bar but it’s mostly overpriced granola bars and sugar drinks. My manager said last month when people were phasing in that she had heard the upper management was going to lobby for food trucks at least a few times a month. I’m not sure when that’ll happen but it’ll definitely be welcome.

    3. Quidge*

      This is a similar approach to my company (UK office of a multinational)!

      1. I was in the first group of “WfH is hell” returners (most of us are actually hybrid and started coming in in March but I came back in June for all my hours, working around my second vaccination and project deadlines). Everyone else was encouraged to come in on at least one day to check their IT this summer, but it wasn’t mandatory.

      2. Depending on country, we were asked to start trialling our new chosen hybrid schedules from Sept or October, and we’ve got until January to settle on one of three ‘categories’ based on how many days/week we want to be in-office (or to stay fully WfH if we want hybrid eventually but aren’t quite ready to come back).
      We don’t have mandatory masks or vaccinations, but there’s hand sanitiser and respectful behaviour everywhere still.

      3. This week was the first week of my office’s trial period and we’ve had free food every day (so everyone on a hybrid schedule can have cake :) ).

    4. Mints*

      +1 free food

      We have a subsidized cafeteria that I used to eat at every day (it’s consistently great food) and they gave us a punch card for three free entrees. That was a nice bonus

  12. Justin*

    I’m just going to…. be flexible with my own timing, dress, and I’m done socially masking my neurodivergence after all this time. :)

    (I’m not going to be a jerk, just stopping the things that are unnecessary and hope I don’t get in trouble.)

    1. Aquawoman*

      I also had some real epiphanies about my ND during the pandemic. I really noticed how taxing commuting and the effort of NT social rules during meetings (sit still, make eye contact) are on me. I’d love to have more people embrace fidgeting (stimming) as a totally okay thing to do. I’d love to hear how it goes for you during one of the open chats!

      1. Justin*

        I mean, there isn’t going to be much to do the first few weeks, so I’ll be on here on Fridays!

        I’m going to end up using Pandora and other music a lot.

      2. Sharon*

        It’s amazing how you don’t realize how taxing that stuff is until you get to stop doing it for a while and feel so much better.

        I buy reject color Thinking Putty by the pound from Crazy Aaron’s on eBay. I play with it almost the entire workday. It can also be helpful telling people that you find it easier to focus when you’re fidgeting with something, because most people think you’re ignoring them. I once knit a whole sock during a banking seminar. At one point the organizer sat next to me and remarked he was amazed that I could knit and still pay attention and take notes – I told him that was WHY I was knitting.

      3. Mizzle*

        I’ve found tangling (‘Zentangle’) during meetings not to be a problem in our office environment. I tend to use regular office supplies, so it’s relatively unobtrusive. People do ask about it sometimes, but so far, always in a positive way.

        (I’m not sure whether it’s linked to neurodiversity or stimming, but it does give you something to do with your hands.)

      4. Mim*

        I know so many people who finally got diagnoses or at least had a chance for introspection and a lot of self discovery during the pandemic. (Personally, it was a mix of really noticing where I was struggling and having the opportunity to make a Telehealth appointment that got it done for me.)

        Between self discovery, official diagnoses, new medications, some resetting of social norms, and people resigning and/or advocating for themselves in larger numbers based on many reprioritizations that the pandemic sparked, I feel so much freer to be myself now.

        I will also note that for people who sometimes have difficulty maintaining eye contact, staring at the tops of masks pinched at the bridges of noses is an amazing proxy that feels a lot more natural. At least I hope it looks natural to others. I have been having a lot of conversations with people, staring deeply at the pinched fold of their mask nearly right between their eyes when worn properly. I can’t be the only ND person who has discovered this delightful side effect of masks.

    2. Mints*

      I also decided that I’m wearing headphones at the office. I used to feel guilty about it because if somebody wanted to stop by my cube, I wanted to be approachable. But it takes like two seconds to remove, so I’m wearing them almost all the time. (I’m autistic and get distracted by like every single noise)

      This is kind of silly, but I also decided to wear short sleeves that reveal my tattoos and if anybody says anything, I pretend they forgot and I’m flippant “Oh I usually wear cardigans so they’re not always visible”

  13. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    We started going back alternate weeks about two months ago. It was…rough. Rough in ways I did not expect. I thought it would be the getting dressed, the packing a lunch, the other people sounds. None of these was the difficulty.
    The part that blew my mind/kicked my butt was HOW TIRED I WAS on days that had to go into the office.
    Getting up an hour earlier to get ready and to drive there. Driving home 40 minute, changing clothes, making dinner, cleaning up, trying to do something relaxing or fun…but
    I hadn’t realized that getting up for work, getting dressed and walking into my home office to work, then turning off my computer at 5, walking into another room and “being home” before my computer fully shut down hadn’t just given me more personal time, it left me more energy.
    I thought that because I was on a good sleep schedule, ate at regular times, and my work day was finite, I’d be fine just changing location. (I’ve been there twenty years, after all.)
    I was wrong.
    I’ve adjusted by not making too many plans that week or expecting to do extra hobby things I’ve become accustomed to over the last 18 months.
    I’m trying to avoid all or nothing, slowly recreating my home life pre-work from home, but it was a shocker.

    1. anon for this*

      Ugh, exactly this. I’ve been easing in back to the office for the last month, but I was still dipping out mid-afternoon and getting home by 3 (and finishing out the work day there). Yesterday was my first full 9-5 day in the office and I was exhausted and coping with a migraine by the time I got home. It was miserable, and I’m still feeling the effects of it today (in the office again).

    2. too many too soon*

      I have a small farm so every minute counts. It’s torture to have to ‘waste’ so much of it just getting ready and getting to work now.

    3. MagnusArchivist*

      Seriously. I commented on this above, but the destruction of my morning & evening routine has been really hard. Recommend thinking of new routines ahead of time and making them fun. I bought myself breakfast at my pre-pandemic favorite coffee shop the entire first week I was back, which was too expensive to keep up, but did help me hate those initial early mornings slightly less. (did not make me less tired though)

      1. myswtghst*

        The new routines was a big help for me – I basically bribed myself to go in by looking at all the restaurants I hadn’t had food from in a while since they’re near work and not home, and took myself out to lunch a lot more than usual when I started going back.

        1. MagnusArchivist*

          I did the same with lunches! The downside was discovering which of my favorites are not following our city’s mask mandate and therefore will not be getting my money or my frail human body in their enclosed spaces. Sigh. I miss you, spicy falafel wrap.

    4. Hester Mae*

      I’m tired too, but it is also from a low level of stress on the days I am in the office. We are required to come in 3 days a week based on a max 2 day telework agreement. Employees aren’t required to have vaccines or wear masks, regardless of Delta or anything else.

      The only bright spot is that I have an office with a door, but I’m getting a new boss and I’m not sure if they will cancel the telework.

    5. myswtghst*

      This is a great point. I’ve been fortunate that my job doesn’t have set work hours, so I’m able to be a bit flexible with my hours on in-office days, but even the additional social interaction in the office took more out of me than I was expecting.

    6. Lizzo*

      The first time I hung out with a friend in person earlier this year (small weekend getaway, visited with her for 2-3 hour chunks over three days), I was so tired when we got home that I took a FOUR HOUR NAP. That never happens.
      All of the mental muscles we rely on for social engagement are atrophied. It’s strange, and it sucks.

    7. Chris too*

      I worked on site all through the pandemic and I was tired too. Exhausted, actually. I believe the problem was the extra mental energy expended by having covid safety always somewhere in my mind, like a mental background hum. It didn’t go away unless I was in my own home. I don’t work in
      a particularly high risk setting and always had access to n95 masks. At this point of the year my work is all outside, and the mental tiredness is gone, but I’m pretty sure it’s coming back when I resume indoor work.

      I wonder if your tiredness is partially that, and not just the extra length of your day? The people who got to work from home were sheltered from it. Even now when you can be vaxxed, Covid safety is still a consideration.

    8. LizB*

      All of this. I posted on a weekend thread a couple months ago shortly after switching to full time in office work. I was SO TIRED, and feeling very dejected that my life was just going to be exhausting and sucky forever. Now, a little bit later, I am still not at 100% of my prior stamina but things are definitely looking up. What I’ve learned so far:

      – If you were doing any household management during your at-home work day (throwing in a load of laundry, mowing the lawn on a ten-minute break, cooking lunch at lunchtime) you have to readjust your expectations for those tasks and probably be more deliberate about when they happen. You might have to have lower expectations or reallocate some of the work to other household members if possible.

      – Those little bits of free time you were using for household management stuff will still exist in your workday, so think ahead of time about what you’ll use them for. Are there tiny work tasks you can do (start the office kitchen’s dishwasher, reload the copier) that will give you that sense of productivity you may have gotten from checking a chore off your to-do list, or would they be better spent on recharging (stretching, walking a lap around the building, getting a coffee)?

      – If there are any comforts of home that you can replicate at the office, do it! I have a designated Office Sweater that is so cozy and soft, and while it doesn’t make up for not being able to wear yoga pants, it’s at least nice. My favorite water bottle now lives at my desk in the office. I have pictures of my cat at my desk because I miss being able to pet her periodically throughout the work day. I’ve been keeping my snack drawer well-stocked.

      – Lower your expectations of how much hobby/leisure time you’ll have. X hours of your week are now eaten up by commuting – that will likely have to come out of your hobby time or relaxing time. Know that ahead of time and plan for it if you can so you can prioritize what gets kept and what gets dropped.

      1. TeeManyMartoonis*

        Plenty of my coworkers and I returned to work wearing comfortable, but respectable enough for the office type clothing. I’ve found that wearing gorgeous scarves or a bold coloured cardigan helps bring a touch of sophistication, as well as comfort. I personally found colourful but extremely lightweight statement jewellery helps as well.

    9. Tupac Coachella*

      Wow that turned on a light bulb for me. I went back full time at the start of August, and I have felt really run down and been having trouble getting up and getting to work on time (not an issue for my job-it wasn’t atypical for me to arrive 15-20 minutes “late” before, but lately it’s been closer to an hour). I’ve had some fatigue issues in the past (I suspect CFS, but not confirmed), so I thought it was more of that, but my most recent bout of significant symptoms do coincide with me going back to the office.

    10. mourning mammoths*

      I came to this realisation when I started working from home, only in the reverse – it was simply wonderful with all the energy and time I had. For an insomniac like me, it’s been a huge gift.

    11. Mim*

      YES on the tired thing! It is so real. I don’t even have a long commute, but all of the social interactions and just having to be “on” for other humans at a moment’s notice.

  14. EventPlannerGal*

    This is kind of silly and minor, but if you have any kind of internal photo ID list or org chart or whatever, make sure it’s up to date and people know where to find it so they can remind themselves of people’s names. I talk to pretty much everyone in my job so this hasn’t been an issue for me, but I’ve had a TON of people asking me who X person they’ve just seen in the break room is because they’ve literally forgotten some of the people from other departments who they haven’t seen in 18 months. Not to mention people who have started during WFH and haven’t met anyone IRL yet!

    1. FreakInTheExcelSheets*

      This is a great one, and a reminder that everyone needs to have a little grace if they aren’t recognized! Maybe you and Jane used to run into each other in the break room 4 times a week and catch up, but you’ve had a drastic appearance change (hair color/cut, grown a beard, decided to embrace your inner “90s art teacher” aesthetic…) and are probably wearing a mask that covers half your face, so don’t be offended if Jane walks right by you. I have a hard time attaching names to faces anyway and my technique for this type of facial blindness was to focus on the shape of people’s noses and mouths since to me they seem more unique than eyes… and of course these are now covered up so I’m just over here like “awesome /s”.

      1. Private_Eye*

        You could use other features of their eyes! Rose Rosetree’s face reading books are great for this.

    2. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      Also, it’s really been a shock and heartbreak to realize that some people left/retired during the pandemic and won’t be back, and nobody put out a message. I’m finding a lot of people “missing”; nobody I was terribly close with, but people I knew.

      1. Steamed Hams*

        Last year during the beginning of Covid, I had been newly employed into an organisation where there was alot of restructure, staff turn over, resignations and all these other changes in the midst of then pandemic.

        I came across a staff member that had started working from home but came to the premises once a month who lamented that, as much as he’d relished working from home, he dearly missed his coworkers who had since left, moved onto different departments or retired.

        Several staff had also been dismayed about not being in the loop about pregnancies, birthdays and marriages that had happened since lockdowns.

    3. Now In the Job*

      This one entertains me. I dyed my hair hot pink about a month before returning to the office–very few people knew I had pink hair, and I’ve proceeded to make new friends at the office because of it. But there is definitely some confusion as to who, exactly, the pink-haired attorney is. XD

    4. allathian*

      I have a hard time putting names to faces. It’s not face blindness, because I recognize the person, but I just can’t remember their name unless I interact with them fairly frequently. For that reason I’m really happy that we have to wear a photo-ID at all times while we’re not actually sitting at our work computers, because the ID is also the smart card we use for logins. My vision’s still good enough for me to read a person’s name sitting across the table from me during our coffee breaks.

  15. Butterfly Counter*

    I only go in twice a week now, but that’s about what it was in the Before Times.

    One thing I noticed is that my stamina and voice wear out quickly. I’m not sure how, but trying to prepare for what was a normal day at the office with conversation and the need to be “on” at any given moment would be a good idea. Start now in making sure you have the energy to take on full days out of the house. That might mean adjusting your sleep schedule and exercising when you can.

    Also, I don’t think quick emails/meetings with those you used to work with are a bad idea. Find out what the admins in the office have planned; get on the same page as another coworker who is coming back at the same time; check in with your boss to see if/how things might change now that work is back in the office. Will metrics stay the same? Is there a new schedule to accommodate those still working from home or are hybrid? Being mentally prepared for all of this will help reduce the “shock” of returning to the office.

  16. Zett*

    For me, the biggest challenge was adjusting my routines. It is amazing how much extra time in the AM commuting, getting fully dressed and made up, etc. can take when you didn’t do it for so long! Or how much more time decompressing takes when you get home. On top of all that, if you would do some home-related things while you were working (dishes, laundry, even meal prepping) then you have to figure all of that back in too!
    I kind of threw out what I was doing and reevaluated my timing again for everything. Even though I felt like I knew my routine from 15 years of working, I still had to do this for myself. For me, I found that I needed to wake up 15 min earlier in order to make my desired start time. And I determined some habits I had picked up in the pandemic that I needed to throw out.
    As someone said above – give yourself GRACE in this process, especially if you are a perfectionist. Your morning workout might not happen. You may not make it to work at 9 AM on the dot. Hopefully your company will also have some grace as folks transition back.

    1. Kowalski! Options!*

      Seconding the earlier start and having to re-learn how to commute. I’d forgotten how freaking lazy I can get when I don’t have to be out of the house at 6:30 in the morning! I’m gradually slinking back into it, and have found that if I pre-determine what I need to be doing by what specific point in time (pack laptop bag and lunch the night before; have coffee on by 5:45; be out of shower no later than 6:05), that helps tremendously. (I’d also forgotten how much I rely on the flow of stories on NPR as a timing guide.)
      Also: programming fun(-ish) stuff during the work day (where am I going walking today at lunch? Is there a new place to go find coffee? are any of my friends who work in the area going to be in the office that day, too?) helps with motivation, too.

    2. Rey*

      Ditto all of this! My office didn’t offer any transition period, so I went from 100% wfh to 100% in the office starting in June, and thinking about which habits still worked for me, and which I needed to adapt again. I used to eat breakfast all the time at my desk, and buy lunch almost every day. Now, I eat breakfast before I leave home, and cooking at home during the pandemic really solidified a lunch routine that I like better. I’ve also found new podcasts to listen to during my commute; I’ve really loving having that time to decompress back again. And I started using grocery pickup at the beginning of the pandemic, and now I just do that every two weeks on my way home from work, so I don’t have to spend that time walking around the grocery store.

      There are also things at the office that we used to do that I’m glad went away during the pandemic and I’m hoping that they don’t come back. For every office birthday we would do a themed potluck, and since I was in charge of planning, I also felt a lot of pressure to bring whatever others hadn’t signed up for yet. During the pandemic, the folks who were in office changed to a optional store bought treats, so it feels less stressful. We also didn’t have a front desk receptionist for several months during the pandemic, and started using a phone tree to direct callers; we filled that position at the beginning of the summer but it’s been nice to not feel pressure about coverage when they take the day off or call out sick, because we all know that the phone tree works and our customers think it’s totally normal.

    3. Gracely*

      That’s what really got me when I had to go back full time (I’d been hybrid, WFH mornings and in office afternoons). It feels like it takes so much more time to get ready for work than it did even before the pandemic. Some of that is making sure I have clean masks, sanitizer, etc., some of it is just having to get back into habits. I’ve left my phone or forgotten to take my morning meds multiple times. I (and my spouse) had also gotten used to having time to make and eat a good lunch before I went to work, which meant we could have smaller, simpler dinners.

      Also, going back was SO much more socializing than I’d done since pre-pandemic, and that was a lot more exhausting than I realized at first. So keep that in mind if you’re scheduling stuff with friends or family outside work–you might not be as up for it until you adjust.

    4. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Yes! The sort of “side effects” on your day-to-day life are harder to adjust to than physically being in the office. I’m generating so much more laundry! And have less time to do it!

      1. Teapot Repair Technician*

        On the laundry front, I’ve been challenging the idea that clothes need to be washed after ever wear. I’ve found if I always wear an undershirt and change into at-home clothes when I get home, I can wear things multiple times between washes.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          It’s summer so I’m sweating more/feeling gross faster, but my general rule is 1-3 wears for shirts and dresses, 2-4 wears for pants, depending on time worn/level of activity/amount of layering/type of material

  17. WantonSeedStitch*

    One thing my office is doing is having managers start going back a week before everyone else, to get the lay of the land and familiarize themselves with the new policies and procedures for COVID safety, so they can help their teams figure out how best to navigate all that when they come in the following week.

  18. Spooncake*

    Supporting the suggestions here of going back gradually and getting advance notice of when you’re expected to be in the office every day, if those are options available to LW. My workplace gave us about 6 weeks notice for those of us still at home to ramp up our office time, and as of this week we’re back to our usual arrangements (which for me still means one wfh day a week for a disability accommodation, but for most people is 5 days a week in the office). Doing things bit by bit and knowing how to plan has been immensely helpful.

  19. Medievalist*

    I’m already required to be back working in-person, and given my job duties and workplace (a school with relatively good virus-precautions) I am endorse the decision to be in-person. Plus, it’s been a lot easier to have the types of casual conversations with coworkers that spark new ideas or give warnings of potential problems coming down the pipeline. While I realize other workplaces and jobs may be different, it was a welcome reminder to realize how much easier it is to do my job non-remotely.

    In terms of advice: One thing that has helped me is to stake out a couple blocks in my weekly schedule for me to shut my office door (since I’m lucky enough to have my own office) and work uninterrupted—I’m still getting some of the perks of self-paced, alone work even while the rest of the time I’m back to office-interactions. I coordinated these alone-time blocks with the others in my department, so that they won’t schedule meetings then. Other colleagues in my department have started to do the same.

    I’ve also started to plan exciting lunches to pack for each week ahead of time (usually cooking something over the weekend and portioning it into five containers, so easy to grab-and-go in the mornings). Having a fun meal ready to take with me has helped to offset the sting of no longer being able to cook mid-day or raid the fridge, as when I was working remotely.

    1. MistOrMister*

      I usually did my cooking on weekends and took my breakfast and lunch in to work with me. Its a huge time and money saver. I thought working remotely would be great b/c I could make my meals fresh each day. Come to find out that nope, I do not enjoy that!! It’s one thing throwing morning oatmeal into the rice cooker or stopping to make a cup of coffee. But dear lord the time it takes me to get lunch or a more “official” type breakfast together!! I’ve realized I need to basically prepare and portion my food out as if I expect to go to the office each day if I want to eat without resorting to carryout or junk food. I got a bunch of tupperware from the dollar tree a few months back so I can organize my food. Although we’re still working at home and I hope we stay that.

  20. Lauren*

    As someone working a public-facing job in person since last May, the advice I’ve given often to friends returning to the office: understand that the first few weeks will be very intense, and then you get used to it. Your covid senses will be extremely tweaked, and then you’ll settle. The heightened vigilance combined with the change in routine is rough at first, but it gets easier.

    Give yourself and your colleagues a lot of grace, and understand that emotions will be high. You will likely be very tired; prep some easy meals, make sure your home is clean before you go back, enlist extra help of spouse/family to keep the house running while you adjust.

    It’s very likely everyone at the office will be extra intense about masks, cleaning, distancing; you’ll eventually settle down. If you aren’t used to wearing a mask all day, it will take getting used to, but it gets easier. If you haven’t found a mask you can wear without adjusting it constantly, do that now, and spend a couple days wearing it for several hours at a time. Some of your colleagues will be better than others; management should make expectations explicitly clear and enforce them consistently, not expect coworkers to police each other.

    1. anon for this*

      Thanks for sharing this. I’m on day 2 of being back in the office, and I’m feeling a lot of what you’re describing. It’s honestly been pretty miserable, so hearing that it should improve after a few weeks is reassuring.

    2. FreakInTheExcelSheets*

      RE: wearing a mask all day – this is absolutely correct! If you haven’t been in a position to wear a mask all the time because you’ve been WFH there’s a huge difference between wearing one to run into a store versus keeping it on for hours at a time. The style you thought was comfortable might irritate your ears or the tag you could ignore for 20 minutes is moving with every breath and feels like a bug on your chin. If you can (due to availability/budget/etc.), get several different styles to find what’s comfortable for longer periods and just so you can rotate to avoid irritants, like your ears getting sore from the elastic. I’ve found 1) adjustable elastic is awesome so you can tighten/loosen as needed, 2) the style that ties behind your head is most comfortable for me long term but is a little annoying if you’re constantly redoing it, like if you’re sipping some water every 10 minutes, 3) headbands with buttons and the little straps that go behind your head are amazing. A friend works in a hospital and was getting sores from all the irritation and he loves these so much – I made some for him and other coworkers. Also if you develop irritation on your face, put moleskin on the inside of the mask until it heals, then try a different style/material (if possible, obviously doesn’t work if you’re required to wear a particular mask at work) or put something on your face to protect the skin. My friend had some initial success with bandaids and blister cushions but the adhesive eventually caused irritation, so now uses an anti-friction stick. Others he knows use vaseline or put the silicone shoe inserts meant for the heel/back of shoe inside the mask over their nose (I think they use double sided tape to adhere to a disposable mask as this obviously wouldn’t work if you’re washing the mask).

      1. Lauren*

        100% I think this is one of the biggest stumbling blocks people have had with masks, and part of why so many people have been resistant (besides belligerent reasons, obviously): they haven’t found a mask that’s actually comfortable to wear. I sew, and I know I’m ~sensitive~ so I made my own masks and made several prototypes before settling on what works best for me (used this pattern: My recommendations:

        – Tie around the head, not ear loops. I use a shoelace; the mask has a little channel on either side that it slips down, and the top loop goes around my head and then I pull the ends tight and tie it at the base of my skull. Since there’s only one knot and I double knot it, it’s very easy to slip down and hang around my neck to drink, then slip back up into place. My ears are sensitive (can’t wear earbuds) so I knew this would be best for me. But it’s also a better seal against your face, and the mask won’t slide around as much. You can only make ear loops so snug before you’re hurting your ears, but if your mask has big gaps on the side it’s pointless.
        – Center seam, high up over the nose bridge and all the way under your chin. My early masks were about half an inch too short, which makes them ride up when I talk. Center seam keeps the fabric away from your mouth, appropriate size for your face keeps it in place and improves seal.
        – Nose wire is a must. I switched to contacts with masks (highly recommended if you can do it, glasses are a pain no matter what) but a nose wire keeps it snug to my face and, again, keeps that seal tight.

        I wear my mask all day and don’t even notice it anymore. It doesn’t bother me at all to wear it to events or out and about, because it fits well and I’m not constantly adjusting it or getting irritated by it. I’ve learned from sewing masks for others that everyone is VERY particular, and everyone’s preferences vary wildly. Take the time to find what’s best for you and you’ll never be bothered by it again.

    3. Bucky Barnes*

      I know I’ve said this before but if your skin gets irritated from 8 hrs of mask-wearing, try a diaper rash ointment. I’ve been putting one on my face each morning and it cuts down on irritation quite a bit.

  21. PolarVortex*

    Focusing more on helping to make sure your colleagues are comfortable:
    – Follow religiously any covid protocols your company, city, and state have in place. A lot of your coworkers may have family who are yet unable to be vaccinated. Quite frankly, mask up anyhow as you go to/from your desk to make your coworkers feel more comfortable as they have to ease back into being around everyone all the time.
    – If you feel sick, don’t come into the office until you’ve been covid tested. I’ve already seen problems for people who’ve come in and then were diagnosed with covid over something they thought was a cold.
    – Be kind to all your coworkers who are struggling coming back. Recognize that if someone has headphones on, you shouldn’t bother them. Don’t judge anyone who has gained covid weight even internally is not kind. Have your small talk be unrelated to covid or having to be back in the office – how about that fall weather?

    For you:
    – As someone suggested, go through your clothes. Specifically look for any new work clothes you buy to be the most comfortable work clothes. It’s going to suck enough going back, you might as well continue to be comfortable. A lot of the new professional clothes coming out I see seem to be recognizing people aren’t going to waste money on nice clothes that aren’t comfortable after over a year in sweatpants/yoga pants/pajama pants.
    – Meal prep because that morning routine is going to be a rough start.
    – Find something new to make your back in the office enjoyable. Maybe it’s a new bento box, or new coffee mug, or new piece of art for your desk. Something that makes this shift back a bit more pleasant.
    – If you don’t have office headphones, buy some. They’re going to be your lifeline after a year of not having to hear your coworkers’ constant noise.
    – Be kind to yourself during this transition! It’s going to be a lot for some people, so do whatever self care you need to do in order to be happy, comfortable, and productive.

    1. sofar*

      Ah yes, the meal planning (and not having my entire fridge one room away). I have started going back to the office for certain things that require equipment that’s at the office. And I don’t know HOW I made the time pre-pandemic to get in my car, drive to a restaurant and pick up food. Or how I managed to order delivery and go downstairs to retrieve it between meetings. I think I’m just busier now at work than I was pre-pandemic. So packing my lunch has been KEY.

      1. PolarVortex*

        Seriously. Plus feeling like more of your day is sucked up with commute that you don’t feel like also spending the time dealing with making lunches or breakfasts even for me. And I have flex work so I’m not in the office every day! But I still pre make most of my in the office day meals on Sunday so that I will actually eat that instead of solving my issues by eating junk food from the minimart in the building.

    2. MissMaple*

      All good points! I really like your list about making sure everyone is comfortable and safe.

      You’re second list is awesome too. That’s something that I’ve found to be helpful being back; I always kept only the basics in my work space at work, but knowing how much I’ve enjoyed having a foot rest and better lighting and an air filter and nice headphones at home has made me realize that it’s probably okay to take those things to work too.

      Definitely take some time to think about your clothes. A lot of my old go-tos just don’t fit anymore and I’ve found that my already casual-end-of business-casual work place has gone even a step more toward jeans and comfy clothes.

  22. Ali G*

    I have been going in 2 days a week, but paused due to Delta. I prioritized the 2 days I have meetings with co-workers who were also in the office those days. That way I got some in person interaction I was missing, but still had my WFH time, which I enjoy. I think prioritizing what you want to get out of being in the office and plan your time around that.

  23. bee*

    Echoing that hybrid was very helpful— I came back to the office last August for one day a week, went to two after the new year, and I’ll probably be picking up a third in the next month or two. That’s definitely made the transition easier, I could not have gone back to full time right away.

    Another thing is being flexible on schedules, I’ve shifted mine to 8-4 to avoid crowds as a public transit commuter, and that’s been huge.

    I also think it might not be as bad as you think! I love my office days, and I feel like way more of a person on them. I get to read on the train, I accomplish way more, and it’s way easier to disconnect at the end of the day. I sometimes think if you approach things with the attitude of, “This is going to be terrible!!” that becomes a self fulfilling prophecy, but thinking about the good lunch/coffee that you’ve missed from the office makes it feel like less of a drag.

  24. The Smiling Pug*

    One thing that’s been helpful for me is getting up and walking around for five minutes at the head of every hour. It breaks up the monotony and is something small to look forward to.

  25. AnonEMoose*

    Understand that people are going to have varied feelings about being back in the office. I personally think that it’s been handled poorly for various reasons, and I’m honestly pretty angry about the timing. Not that I am buttonholing colleagues to complain or vent about it. But when someone asks how I’m feeling about being partly back in the office, I’m not pretending to be ok with it, either. Again, not going on an extended rant or anything, but may say something like “I don’t think requiring us to come back X days/week is a great idea just now, and I’m not happy about having to be on public transit with potentially unvaccinated people twice a day.”

    1. HigherEdAdminista*

      I am so with you on this. I absolutely hate the song and dance about how much we all miss being in person five days a week. I don’t, especially now. Even if things were great again, I would prefer hybrid at best.

      Don’t make other people perform feelings they don’t have.

      1. Froopsie*

        Yes! If you are any sort of manager or supervisor, don’t ask or expect your reports to do the emotional labor of telling you what you want to hear.

        Since returning to the office, my big boss likes to walk around the cubicle warren and say things like “Isn’t it GREAT to see everyone back here?” with a big ol’ smile. The rest of us–with our unvaccinated little kids, our jobs that really could be done 100% remotely, and our 0% say in the matter–sort of twitch our faces to pretend to smile back. It makes the crummy situation even crummier to have to act like we’re happy about it.

        1. AnonEMoose*

          Ugh. Big Boss would probably wilt from the lasers shooting from my eyes with that. At least my boss doesn’t expect me to perform a happy dance about this, so at least there’s that much. He knows I am Not. Happy about this and doesn’t expect me to act like I am.

          I don’t have kids to worry about, at least, but I am not pleased about the additional exposure created for both me and my DH (who would be at greater risk of complications if he did contract it) by me having to be on public transit. We’re both fully vaccinated, but with the Delta variant, I’d rather avoid being around people in enclosed spaces any more than absolutely necessary, and since my job can easily be done remotely (I’ve been doing it that way for the last year and a half), I’m livid at being forced back to the office.

      2. Staying anon for this....*

        I also work in higher ed and am still processing my feelings towards being forced back entirely in person from a far more flexible hybrid schedule. I’m still in the pissed and angry stage. It’s going to be a while before I come to the acceptance stage, if a mostly in person workplace and instruction can be sustained the entire fall semester. Last fall, we lasted 10 days before pivoting from hybrid to virtual. Lasting a month with in person instruction, including large lecture halls filled to capacity and mostly maskless crowds at football games will be the test.

        Despite my division’s higher ups talk about allowing hybrid or remote schedules for those who wanted it after most people did it well for nearly a year and half, most requests were denied. Only the higher ups and some IT/tech people got any remote work approved. One higher up sent out an email about returning to onsite work and it came across as written from their position of privilege. They have a private office and spend most of their time in meetings. Their take on interruptions being a mostly positive thing, not a neutral or negative aspect, really showed how out of touch they are. I don’t see interruptions as a positive, especially when I’m trying to get work done and I have to stop what I’m doing because of a colleague’s lack of planning and obliviousness to workplace norms. I’ve already had one unplanned interruption yesterday when I got asked to staff the desk despite having my calendar marked as busy so I could get some work done. Yeah, my coworker’s really not that good at his job.

        Froopsie, you are so much a better person than me. If any leadership tried to do the whole forced positivity act in my presence, I might not have enough self control to not flip them off.

  26. Yellow*

    If you have the option of easing back in, I recommend it. I’ve been going into the office 1-2 days a week for 6+ months, and at first I was overwhelmed by seeing so many people in person, and would come home basically high on life from having so much human interaction. Easing in helped. It would be really jarring to go from 5 days at home to 5 days in the office.

    1. Yellow*

      Also, be prepared for the first few weeks to spend time talking to your coworkers. When I first started going back in I felt like I didn’t get anything accomplished for weeks, because everyone wanted to talk to me. Now that people are used to seeing me in person again, I can get by with quick chats about what’s going on, but initially people were stopping to talk for a half hour or more, and I got nothing done.

  27. Slovenly Braid Cultist*

    We’re allegedly going to a hybrid schedule in October (was supposed to be September but delta pushed us back) and I’m way more nervous about the commute than the office itself.

    I’m looking forward to having some social interaction, to being able to resolve small issues face to face instead of interminable, ignored email chains, and to having separation between work and home life. I’m trying to keep those things in mind.

    I am not looking forward to the commute, to the inevitable technical issues, and since I don’t think I’m going to be comfortable unmasked, I am worried about not being able to drink enough water through the day and I have no idea what I’ll do about lunch once it’s too cold to sit outside. (Plus the time constraints of going and finding somewhere outside every day!)

    For now I’m going to try a few smaller, low-pressure trips to simulate my commute since I haven’t really taken public transit for 18 months. I need to get used to being near people again and train myself out of some of the panic reactions. Which is going to be hard, because transit is crowded and even though I’m vaccinated I’m *really* terrified of getting sick.

    I do think a hybrid schedule will be easier than full-time back in office, and frankly I hope we can keep it hybrid forever, though that may be a pipe dream.

    1. Reba*

      Practicing your commute is a great idea!

      I wonder if your office would be open to doing a “core hours” thing on in-office days, so you could have more flexibility to commute at off-peak times.

      1. Slovenly Braid Cultist*

        I think there’s some plan for that, but they haven’t been specific. At the very least I could probably shift to an early arrival and take a longer lunch- or adjust my hours on my wfh days.

        I did used to try to get in a little early but I’ve gotten so used to 8 hours of sleep! Going back to an average 5-6 hours is going to be really tough. And feels so unhealthy as a goal.

      2. Eldritch Office Worker*

        In my experience public transit also just looks different now – the ridership levels are lower and less consistent, the peak hours have shifted slightly, the ‘decorum’ is more slated towards distancing as much as possible. And that’s going to change as people return, so just “getting the vibe” is helpful

    2. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

      For the water thing – look into cups with straws. You can shove the straw up under your mask and sip from it. We’ve found this really useful for times when we’re in public.

    3. Teapot Wrangler*

      I’ve just been skipping lunch but the drinking is hard. I’ve basically just been pulling my mask up to drink and then straight back down again but am thinking maybe a straw would be better? Masks aren’t required over here so I am literally the only person in the office wearing one which is ironic given I find them very uncomfortable – I can’t even pull a scarf over my mouth in the winter so masking is not fun – and I imagine that I’ll probably end up dropping the mask soon too.

      1. Slovenly Braid Cultist*

        I expect I’ll be the only one in a mask, too- some people go in voluntarily now and don’t seem to mask, though who knows if it’s different in common areas than in their offices with doors. I’m in an open area so it’s all the same to me.

        I guess it’s not unreasonable for them and I’m not really upset by them being unmasked, but I am extremely terrified of getting someone sick, rational or not, and I think if I had no mask on I’d just be too scared to function at all. So for now that’s my plan.

        A straw is a good idea- at least then I can stay hydrated which will help.

  28. AvonLady Barksdale*

    Expect to be tired! Your energy has shifted, so the first few days will probably be as exhausting by 6pm as they are invigorating at 9am. Try to leave at your end time even if you usually stay a few minutes late.

    For me personally, I like to have fresh flowers at my desk. They just make me cheerful. If I were going back into the office, I would bring a small bouquet on my first day. Bring something that brings you a little joy.

    1. Delphine*

      I was shocked by how exhausted I was going back in! All that stamina I didn’t realize I’d built up…even now, a month into our hybrid schedule, I feel like crashing at 6-7pm.

    2. Mints*

      Yeah, this was surprising to me. It’s not just waking up earlier, “legitimate” tiredness. It’s doing stuff I don’t like doing all day that makes me tired, apparently.

  29. jef*

    We started hybrid in-person about 3 weeks ago. I am now 3 days at home and 2 days in the office. Some things to consider: I am WAY more tired by 3:00 on an at-work day. I am not used to the physical or social drain of being in person. Budget time, energy, etc. accordingly. Second – I love to jot notes to myself on sticky notes or pads of paper. Which is great! Until you realize that you left the note at home and you are at the office. I have started carrying a notebook with me everywhere so I can stick my notes in it and not miss out on having it when I need it. Plus I put a checklist inside the front cover because of my next point. Which is I FORGOT HOW TO DO THIS! I started back my first day in the office and realized that I no longer had snacks or teabags or ibuprofen, etc. in my desk. I felt really lost trying to remember what I needed to grab from home before I left! So I made a checklist and stuck it in the notebook so I could remember to take everything with me when I went to work, and then a list for all the things that need to come home with me each night. Hope this helps someone. It’s been such a hard time and the hits keep coming. Wishing you all grace and patience.

  30. Teapot Repair Technician*

    I think noise-canceling headphones (with built in mic) should become standard equipment for every office worker.

    I don’t use mine all the time, or even every day, but when I need them they’re indispensable. In addition to blocking noise and playing music, they serve as a “do not disturb” signal when I don’t want to be interrupted or join office chatter, they let me talk on the phone with both hands free, they let me talk on Zoom without having to shout into my computer, and the keep my ears warm when the AC is blasting.

    (Another underappreciated feature on mine is that you can turn off noise canceling and have them amplify outside sounds instead so you can listen to music while retaining situational awareness.)

  31. Viki*

    Stray Observations from someone who did Hybrid and then for animal related reasons went back to remote:
    There is more clothing you have to wear in office than WFH.
    You spend more $$ than before, because it’s easier to go to Starbucks than try to fight with the coffee maker
    Talking to people is a lot more draining in person after the fact. I love people, and talking to people in the moment great. Out of that conversation 5 minutes later, wow that’s a lot of people. Conversely, I find talking to people on video/voice calls draining while it happens.
    Nothing is exactly where you expect it– think of it as if all the furniture in your house is moved two inches.
    The patience you have with stupidity is thinner.
    You dog will pee on all your furniture and the PS5 while the cat destroys the shower curtain because you left them for 9 hours.

    1. Sleet Feet*

      LOL yes I am so worried about my cats. They have become so codependent! Especially the one we adopted just before lockdown.

      I have a SAHS and do not envy the damage control he will have to deal with.

  32. Turanga Leela*

    I was relieved to go back to the office, so I think it’s a little different for me! But here are some logistical thoughts:
    -Bring in cleaning supplies your first day–my office was dusty and it turned out we’d had a mouse infestation while I was working from home. Once it’s clean, restock your office with snacks, tissues, and other necessities.
    -Make sure you’re familiar with your office’s covid mitigation policies. Think about how you’re going to handle it if a coworker isn’t following the rules or is making you uncomfortable (coming to work visibly sick, nosemasking, whatever).
    -Think about what you’ll pack for lunch. I gave myself permission to buy my lunch the first several times I went back to the office, because for whatever reason packing lunch seemed overwhelming. It got easier over time.
    -If you have the budget for it, invest in comfortable clothes that will pass muster at the office. I am an evangelist for Eileen Fisher’s black crepe pants, which are expensive BUT they’re machine-washable and -dryable, they look nice, they last forever, and they feel like pajamas.

    1. sofar*

      I am also relieved to be going back — my company is implementing a “do what you want approach,” which is fine because … people get to choose what’s right for them. My job is made easier by equipment at the office, so I’m back in a few times a week.

      In addition to meal planning, my biggest challenge is: People are accustomed to WFH flexibility that those in-office do not have.

      – I commute now. People WFH do not. Pre-pandemic, we had a block on meetings before 9:30 a.m. and after 4:30 p.m., to allow people to commute. When we all went remote, that fell by the wayside — and people are also used to the flexibility of moving meetings around at the last minute. Early (8:30 a.m. meetings) are tricky for those who commute, and switching timing of meetings is tricky for those who have to find a meeting room on the fly. If I’m on the literal road in my literal car, no, I cannot “jump on the 9:30 a.m. call at 8:30 a.m. instead.” I’m inactive on Slack and muted during my commute. Nobody cares.

      – WFH People who send me Slack messages asking if I can “jump on a call quick” after 5:00 are the WORST. I am heading out the door so I can commute. I’ve been saying, “Sorry, I’m heading out the door right now, can we connect in the a.m.?” and people are like, “Oh! Out the door? You’re … in the office?”

      1. Raziela*

        I haven’t gone back to the office yet but I can sympathize with this. My current team does this to me all the time and it’s astounding how disrespectful everyone is now with quick chats.

        To everyone who is exhausted by in office, I find it the exact opposite. With everyone being remote every question is a scheduled meeting or phone call and so I am in 8 hours of meetings and calls a day. I’m the office someone would just come by for 5 min.

        1. sofar*

          Yes, I feel the same way re: energy. I have actually found it less energy- and soul-sucking to be IN the office. I know everyone differs, but having an impromptu face-to-face chat with a few folks is so much less draining than being bombarded with Slack messages and random day-of meeting invites for “sync” and “touch base” at all hours of the day.

  33. alienor*

    I went back on a hybrid schedule for a couple of months before going fully remote again for a new job. I think the main thing that surprised me was how physically exhausted I was after those first few days. Sitting in one place instead of being able to move from desk to bed to sofa to desk was a lot (in the office we were supposed to stay at our desks except to go to the restroom, although that rule didn’t last long) and so was just having more people around. I also didn’t plan well for food and drinks on the first day because I hadn’t realized that all the food service and vending machines in the building would be closed. So, definitely find out what the food situation is and be prepared!

  34. Slinky*

    If at all possible, I recommend transitioning back over time. My office required us to be 60% onsite by the end of August. Starting in mid-July, I started going in six hours a week and slowly expanded. It made it much easier! And ultimately, patience with yourself and others is key. Yes, we’re going “back” to our old routine, but also we’re not. A lot has changed in the last eighteen months. Schedule breaks for yourself, even if it’s just a five minute stretch break. Realize that you’ve likely forgotten some things in the last year+ and that’s normal. We’re all experiencing it! I had a bizarre day where I basically had to do a forensic of the work I’d done March 11, 2020 by piecing together clues I’d left, having no idea I’d be walking away for so long. It’s truly a strange experience. Eventually, you’ll settle in and things will feel more “normal,” but probably not fully (for example, if you still have a mask mandate or if all your meetings are remote). Think about it like starting a new job. You’ll be establishing new practices and routines.

  35. Workplace Wendy*

    We were asked to go back to the office 2 days a week. I tried and it messed up my whole day. I had to leave at lunch to to go home to let my dogs out, then I had to leave exactly at quitting time for the same reason. It completely interrupted my workflow. I explained this to my boss and he agreed that I work better from home. I hope to turn this into a permanent situation so I can move out of the city.

  36. [insert witty username here]*

    This is going to sound very grouchy but Imma say it anyway: please limit the small talk! Yes, we all haven’t seen each other in such a long time. Yes, it’s weird to be around so many people and out in public. Yes, this is surreal. Yes, the last year and a half has been crazy. It doesn’t need to be said a thousand times a day!!

    I’m not saying don’t make small talk at all, but let’s make it better small talk, shall we? Tell me a sentence or two about a new hobby you picked up, a recipe you tried, a trip you’re looking forward to taking – just not the same comments over and over about “I haven’t seen you in so long!” If we’re passing in the hallway, sure, no problem. But if I have one more person come and interrupt me at my desk just to say “HI! Long time no see! Isn’t this weird?!” I’m going to lose my ever-lovin introverted mind!!!

    1. knitcrazybooknut*

      Small talk for me is punishment. I plan to focus on getting to learn more about my new coworkers (since I started this job during COVID) and talking about how tall they are. I have no sense of height after interacting all this time over MS Teams!

      1. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

        Hah yes, the height thing! I also started my job during COVID and only met people in person for the first time last month at a going-away party. Everyone was surprised at how tall I am, and I was surprised at how short everyone else is. It was very entertaining. We also have a camera-off culture, so it was weird seeing people’s faces vs their little Teams photos. I’m pretty sure I also surprised people on that front too, since my photo is very polished and IRL I have blue hair and several piercings.

    2. Workplace Wendy*

      I’ve been guilty of talking too much. I’m an introvert and I hate small talk but I’ve been alone in my house for a year and a half and words just keep coming out of my mouth. I know I’m doing it and I can’t make it stop. It’s awful and embarrassing and I’m glad I have the flexibility to stay home, if not for me, for the sake of my coworkers.

      1. amcb13*

        Yeah I’m bad at small talk but with co-workers I’m friendly with I just can’t stop. I actually really appreaciated this morning when a colleague cut me off mid-conversation and said “Look this is fun but I actually need to go do, you know, my work”–it was very direct but not unkind, and I found that really helpful.

      2. introverted af*

        This, plus also I have been really salty about having to come back into the office. So when leadership said “we value building relationships and communicating in person” I’ve leaned into that. There does have to be some tradeoff in productivity, but I’m assuming they built that into their plans. I know that’s maybe not the most productive way to look at it, but I’ll get my satisfaction where I can while I apply for jobs.

    3. allathian*

      Yeah. When we talked about it in a recent team meeting, I said that because there’s nothing in my job that I can’t do from home, if I go to the office, I’ll do so to socialize with my coworkers, even if that’s draining. So the ideal for me would be to go to the office for the occasional development day, but I’m really not all that invested in going to the office to do my actual work.

  37. anon for this*

    This is a very timely post, as I’m on Day 2 of being back in the office part time. My workplace has not handled the transition well, in my opinion. They took the opportunity to move us from individual cubicles in an open office plan to shared desks (during a pandemic! yay!) with each desk partner working on a schedule of 2 days in office one week, 3 days in office the next. The now-vacant desks and offices are hotelling spaces for visitors who want to work out of our office (which rarely happened pre-pandemic), but also all our meetings are still happening over Zoom, so there’s little reason for anyone to come down here. It feels incredibly ridiculous to be sitting at my desk, with a mask on, on a Zoom call with several coworkers who are all also in the building.

    My biggest struggle is with how frustrated I am about all of this. I’m being forced to go into the office on public transit multiple times a week, so I can do all the same things I do at home. I’m hoping that after a few weeks I’ll get used to it, but right now, I’m afraid I don’t really have any advice. Just disappointment with how things are going here.

    1. AnonEMoose*

      Totally with you on the “forced back to the office on public transit”. It’s incredibly frustrating.

    2. agender blood elf*

      we’ve been in person again since may 2020 and have no plans to go back remote, EVER

      (especially bizarre considering the only people who can’t do their job from home are the warehouse team members. i’m a one person marketing team and need our showroom/products to take photos & videos, but would be able to do this hybrid no problem. alas.)

      but i feel you STRONGLY on this zoom call where i’m also in the office thing. we’re constantly doing the dance of ‘everyone else mute your mic because x is talking now and there is an echo’ multiple times per meeting and it’s just frustrating as all hell. bizarre especially considering we can hear everyone else on the call.

      1. anon for this*

        Exactly this! We’re getting none of the benefits of being in-office and all of the risks. It’s so, so frustrating.

  38. Twisted Lion*

    Make sure your work cloths still fit. Mine were too snug for comfort. And stock up on some cute masks and hand sanitizer and wipes.

    1. amcb13*

      I recommend the Dr. Bronner peppermint hand sanitizer–it doubles as a really nice pick-me-up because of the peppermint oil! It smells amazing!

    2. Lenora Rose*

      Throughout the Pandemic, I wore several of my work appropriate but comfy tops on the days I wanted to feel more “put together” and less “trapped at home with small kids”. So what I actually had was a lot of previously work appropriate tops that, with another 2 years of wear, just weren’t. I still had enough things I’d left alone that fit to make it through the first couple weeks, but I used my early cheques as an excuse to get another couple of nice ones. (I am NOT someone who does retail therapy via clothes most of the time; as a plus sized woman with other fitting issues, I usually find it stressful. But I’d had a couple of online places recommended, and tried them and it was… fun? I didn’t think that was possible without going in person with a really skilled companion lucking into a really good retail floor person.)

      1. Shopping bleh*

        Which online clothes shops did you have good luck with? I need to make some purchases and am also plus sized and find shopping stressful. Kindred spirits unite!

        1. Farm Girl*

          Woman within and Roamans. I am pleased by the quality-less so for getting weekly catalogs. On sale – Coldwater Creek and Northstyle.

        2. Lenora Rose*

          EShakti had nice stuff and offers an option to give them your exact measurements for a surprisingly small extra fee. I bought a blouse in their standard sizing and two fitted dresses: one I love, the other had a couple of tiny flaws but is still much much better than if I had tried to buy off the rack. Penningtons is a Canadian company with a few stores in the US; I’ve had some luck with them in person and online, especially since they absorbed Addition-Elle, another plus-sized company that was a touch more upscale. They can have a few too many everything-is-loose-and-flowy/baggy or empire waisted things but so it seems does everyone who does plus sized. Torrid has some good stuff though it’s a bit too fast-fashion for me.

          I love Holy Clothing but their style tends more towards things you’d wear out and about and less work-appropriate.

          I must admit: I tend to skirts and dresses (with leggings underneath for winter) so I never know who does pants well.

  39. generic_username*

    For me it’s about finding something to get excited about. What can I do in the office that I can’t do at home? So I’m carving our time to go to get coffee with my coworkers at a coffee shop near the office midday and I bought a new wardrobe to get excited about (almost like back-to-school shopping, lol). I’m trying to make sure to still incorporate things I’ve learned over the past few months (like taking a break from my computer at lunch). Trying to convince myself the commute is a great time to listen to my book on tape (although if I’m being honest, I’m finding it hard to convince myself that the time wasn’t better spent sleeping in or vegging on the couch, lol)

  40. Colette*

    I’m not back in the office, but I had similar concerns when I went back to working after being unemployed for 6 months.
    – start adjusting your sleep schedule in advance, if you will need to get up earlier
    – bring in extra snacks if you’ve been used to eating whenever you want to at home
    – think about what you brought home, and what needs to go back (i.e. extra shoes or socks, tissues, a sweater, water bottle, coffee cup)
    – expect to be tired for the first week

    Obviously, COVID will make it more complicated – you might need extra masks and sanitizer, you’ll need to get used to being around people, etc.

  41. DGNYC*

    As someone who was required to go back to in person last year, something coworkers can do to make more people feel more comfortable is respect the policies and people boundaries. These may have changed in the last 1.5 years since your saw your colleagues in person. If your office policy says you need to wear a mask, please do. If a coworker want to maintain social distance, listen to them and respect that. If they are not comfortable with conference room meetings, see if you can accomplish the same thing in another format.

    For yourself, try to be ok speaking up about what you need to feel comfortable. I know that is not easy, but I have found it’s better to sent new boundaries/expectations earlier in the “return to office” phase to save yourself some frustration. Sure I was made fun of a bit for insisting people wear a mask when they were at my desk (and if they wont, to please instead send me a slack message/call/email), but eventually people got it. Also, good headphone help a lot with blocking out some of the office noise you may not be used to after WFH for so long. And if you can, maybe treat yourself to something when you’re in the office that you don’t get at home (fancy latte, take out lunch from a place you’ve been missing, etc).

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      100% agree – Boundaries. Respect them!

      (Husband had to tell one lady at his place that no, he didn’t want hugs or to hear her theories about vaccine conspiracies!)

  42. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    Based on my experience of working hybrid home/site and husband’s experience of just this week returning to the office some tips:

    1. It’s probably going to feel unsafe at some level, so prepare for that. We’ve been essentially told to not go near people for well over a year and being back with your coworkers can feel odd.

    2. Reset your morning routine/evening routines. It surprised my husband how much longer it took to get ready for work in the mornings when he had to worry again about not stinking/having clean smart clothes.

    3. Have a funny tale/picture or image of some craft stuff or your pets or something non work related as a non-stressful conversation opener for your coworkers. Although the tempatation is to share the woes of what we’ve been through it can make for a quite somber experience!

    4. On the same vein, although this one is more specific to me, if there’s coworkers you’ve lost to Covid it’s ok to talk about that if you want to. Seeing an empty desk can hurt a surprising amount even if it happened a while ago.

    5. If you commute to/from work give some extra time either side of the journey – I honestly couldn’t remember how long it took to get to site A!

    6. Be kind to yourself and others. Get vaccinated if you haven’t already (and you medically can), practise good hygiene, set aside time for mental breaks if you need them. This has been a traumatic time for a lot of us.

    7. Remember what passes for okay behavior at home may not in the office! Brought to you by the Keymaster who nearly collapsed a shelf with a truly ear splitting fart…..

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        I have to prep small talk topics in my head because hoo boy my brain does not like being social anyway! I think I have enough funny stories to last the transition back to full time office work now :)

        One thing I forgot was I really got into embroidery at home, so my lunch breaks et al were spent sewing and listening to chill music and it was something I realised I’d really looked forward to each day. Basically I now have a ‘travel kit’ of stitching so I can carry on with this at lunchtime in the office.

  43. Sylvia*

    I hate being back in the office. I love my job, my boss, and my co-workers but am actively looking for remote work. My co-workers and I are very isolated, so I can’t speak to what it would be like to be around people again. I keep my office dark and have a soft yoga mat, pillow, and fuzzy blanket so that I can do yoga or lie down for 5 minutes. (I can’t sleep during the day, so I’m not worried about falling asleep at work.) I also brought a microwave, Keurig, and am buying a mini-fridge so that it can be a little more like home.

  44. Sleet Feet*

    We just started this and here are some things that have/have not worked.

    Worked well:
    – lots of advance notice before starting the soft/hard reopens. 1 months plus.
    – a long soft open where individuals could choose coming in or not.
    – a team based approach where your coworkers and manager worked together to describe what the ideal hard open would look like.
    – general check-ins on what works and doesn’t work about wfh.

    Had problems:
    – a regional approach based on Covid #s is very reasonable. However our region failed to communicate what the parameters for following the global reopen schedule were, how often they were meeting to evaluate, etc. It left our regional offices feeling listless and like we couldn’t plan to stay wfh or to go back in the office.
    – volunteer Covid vaccination status reports. Eventually they mandated filling in your status. If you want to know the rates ask and make it mandatory. Volunteering is useless.

    Things I’m worried about:
    – Not having the energy to be around people 8hrs straight several days a week.
    – Getting used to not cussing etc. At home when I was stressed I could go vent to my spouse and hug my kitty. I’ll have none of those coping mechanisms anymore.
    -Finding a professional wardrobe. A lot of places that cater to my size and style closed down during Covid.
    -Not being able to truly take a break during lunch at home I could go for a walk, make a nutritious lunch, and plop down on the recliner to watch TV. I won’t be able to do any of that easily in the office.
    – failing to meet expectations. Ask 10 people what they expect return to work to look like and you’ll get 10 different answers. Everyone’s expectations are going to be dashed. It won’t be like before, it won’t be the utopia of no more dress codes and flex schedules either. It will be something else.

  45. Rattatat*

    Remember your manners and act like you are in a shared workspace with people doing all sorts of different tasks! Certainly socialize, but if you want to catch up LOUDLY for a LONG time with colleagues, maybe go for a walk or have lunch together? Put your cellphone on vibrate or at least keep the ringer volume very low. If it wasn’t customary to play music from a speaker at your desk before the pandemic please don’t do it now. Virtual meetings are still a thing so unless you have a soundproof private office, bring headphones of some kind and remember you do not need to shout on a Zoom. Don’t bring your spouse to the office to work from an empty cubicle if that work is making very loud sales calls.
    I’ve been working from the office at least partially throughout and if you couldn’t tell the volume in our nearly-full office these last few weeks is driving me bonkers. (I need to finally break down and get some noise cancelling headphones.)

  46. cactus lady*

    Ask for an ergonomics evaluation. Your WFH setup has probably been very different from your office (better or worse) and you want to make sure you are taking care of you. I actually can’t go back until I receive one per my doctor’s instructions (I have an injury and started this job remote so have never been evaluated here) and my company is dragging it’s heels on that, but everywhere else I’ve worked has been great about doing them upon request.

  47. IT_peeps_need_love_too*

    Be kind to your IT folks. Many of us have been working at the office all this time. When we had staff come back after a year+, phones / scanners / printers / network cables, pretty much everything that hadn’t been used during that time started to crap out. We didn’t have time to check every piece of equipment and needed people to be patient while we got stuff fixed. We don’t have an endless supply of repair equipment. People who couldn’t work took priority over staff that wanted another monitor cause they had one at home. People who didn’t understand that we worked everyday keeping everyone able to WFH became the people that got moved down on the priority list. Recognize that we have been busy this entire time supporting everyone and although you are important, so are the others that came back too. I am just as tired now as during the WFH time for most staff and sometimes more. Just be kind. For those coming back, IT has been here the whole time and we don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel and honestly are tired. We are now supporting both onsite and WFH environments, sometimes with I learned it from Google skill sets because that was what was needed. To let you know how hard it is, I finally got a vacation after 18 months of going none stop and still got calls while I was out. Be nice to us.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      I did have one person celebrate his return to work by bringing in *all* his home computer kit (I.e. not business stuff) for us in IT to upgrade and fix because ‘I thought you guys would appreciate something to do’.

      He’s definitely on my ‘low priority always’ list now.

      1. Lenora Rose*

        I… just… did he not realise that remote work transitions require MORE IT service?

        I mean, obviously he didn’t. But the assumptions people make about other peoples’ jobs still don’t cease to amaze me.

  48. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    For the employers what NOT to do: Decide that now is a good time to reorganize the office space because some are coming back and some are perm WFH. Don’t make facilities and IT migrate dozens or more workers to other desks/offices for a more efficient use of space, at a time when everything already feels stressful and “lost”. If workers are coming back, let them acclimate back to being where they were first.

      1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        Mine did too and I’m still reeling a bit…like I started a new job instead of having been here for 15 years. And despite IT and facilities doing their very best, nothing went smoothly and two weeks later there is still a list of little items that need to be fixed after the frantic moves; plus it created some hard feelings between departments because people were already stressed from coming back, and now they’re snapping at each other about “being in the way” or “cutting the line” for help.

  49. NYCProf*

    Pack bandaids! Your comfortable work shoes may not be comfortable anymore after a year and a half of bare feet and flip flops. I’ve been back for three weeks and blisters are a common complaint among the women at my university.

    1. The silent eye*

      Yes this! I haven’t worn my work shoes for a full day of walking around and being on my feet in a long time, my feet hurt

      1. CroNut*

        One of my best friends worked in a corporate environment Pre-covid, then worked from home for nearly a year, then just recently returned to working on site again. For someone who practically lived in heels before the pandemic, she barely remembers what it’s like to wear office shoes anymore! First day back, she texted me to complain that she felt like a newly born baby giraffe taking its first steps!

    2. Semprini!*

      Building on this:

      – Shoe-stretching spray. Spray it on the parts of the shoes that rub.
      – Some kind of blister rub stick (rub shield, body glide, etc.). Apply it to the parts of your feet that rub.
      – Epsom salts to soak your feet in when you get home. They dry out blisters from the inside.

      (Source: Have the world’s most finicky feet)

    3. Mints*

      This happened to me! I don’t know if my shoes got un-broken in after almost two years, or if I just was used to them? probably the latter. I’m going to buy new shoes probably

  50. The silent eye*

    I recently started a new job but at my old one we weren’t all fully back if we didn’t want to be, so I worked 2 days home and 2 in the office (4-10s) it was really nice. That’d be my recommendation, don’t try to jump 100% back in the office (unless you really miss the office and are tired of wfh, then go for it!). In my new job I’m in the office 1 day and home 4, I’ll probably up it to 2 office 3 home soon but it’s a nice slow transition.

  51. Green Goose*

    We have been back since July, and in my situation I have a commute of about 90-120 minutes a day. Here is my advice:
    If possible, try to have a gradual return. Maybe your first week back you could go in 1-2 days and then increase every week/two weeks. I was surprised how exhausted I was the first time I did two days in a row, I think because the commute is so draining and then a lot of socializing all at once.
    Start packing lunches. I was able to save money by not going out to eat 1-3 times a week. I work in a food desert and the only option if I forget to bring food is a very pricey cafe in our building, great food but between $15-$25 to get lunch there.
    If you are feeling bitter about going back in, I’d recommend talking with someone about it, maybe downloading the calm app, or find another way to release that frustration because I’ve experienced and have seen people get super frustrated about small things because they are trying to repress the frustration of coming in. I’m trying to find podcasts I really like to listen to during my commute to make me less mad during that time. (Does anyone remember the OP who wrote about a commute that was so stressful they wanted to quit their job on the first day? I really relate, lol)
    If you are in an open plan office, bring headphones. It’s going to be a lot more distracting at the start to go from working only/with only 1-2 people to an office full of people talking, chewing, loudly making copies etc. I found it hard to get work done the first few times I went in, and on top of all that I wanted to catch up with my coworkers who I had not seen in over a year.

  52. sharmand3r*

    If you can, transition gradually. Going in 1x/week, 2x/week, etc. made the transition smoother than going back full turkey. I’d also recommend keeping those first few weeks calmer outside of work. Going back to the office full time definitely took a lot more energy out of me than I thought! You also may have people who have been in the office the whole time, so like some of the other commenters said, be kind :)

    Also bring headphones!! So many people came back to our office and took video calls on full blast… Do not recommend. I’d evaluate too anything that made your life at home easier and see if you can replicate that in the office. Like a plant, nice headphones, etc.

    In your first few weeks back, I’d be cautious with interacting with coworkers. What I mean by that is explicitly asking people’s boundaries and reinforcing your own (“Please wear a mask when you come to my desk” etc.).

    I had the luxury of going back to an office that required proof of vaccination for all employees, which honestly made the full transition so much easier. I’ve loved being back, and all of you who are against coming back full-time, please remember that there are some people who have really struggled with WFH and who relish the opportunity to meet in person again. We all have different preferences, and other’s preferences are just as valid as yours :)

  53. not that kind of Doctor*

    We are going back gradually, and on a hybrid schedule.

    Last month I was in the office every day for 2 weeks, training a new team. It was exhausting for various reasons, but being unused to it definitely contributed. It helped to just be there in the morning & WFH in the afternoon – occasionally with a nap in between. Lately I’ve been going in one morning a week. I meet with any team members who need training or support, say hello to others around the office, complete any tasks that are easier on site, and go home around 1 or 2, completing my workday from there.

    Right now my team is only in the office when the work task requires it, or would be substantially easier. At some point we’re planning to have maybe 1 day or 2 mornings fixed when everyone is in, and set but flexible individual schedules around that. It’s nice to see everyone, and the camaraderie of a full team is great to have, but if people work just as well from home & prefer it, I’d rather they do that most of the time. Especially as long as delta is a thing, it’s safer to have fewer people on site anyway.

  54. coffeeandpearls*

    We’ve been back on a hybrid schedule for a couple of weeks. Things that helped me:
    -Keeping the same alarm time in the morning, even if I’m not commuting. I just stay in bed and read on my commute days, but I don’t go back to sleep. If I don’t keep consistent with that, it messes up how well I can fall asleep at night.
    -Add 15-20 minutes onto the time you think it’s going to take to get ready. I could have sworn I got myself from shower-to-shoes in 30 minutes in the “beforetimes”, but I guess not anymore!
    -Keep snacks on hand. If you forget your lunch, you can have something to tide you over between meetings.
    -Re-pack a “oh shit kit” for your desk – makeup, meds, shout wipes, safety pins- whatever you think you might need in a pinch! Don’t forget the office cardigan, b/c it’s cold up in here!
    – Make time to make coffee at home, or bring what you like and the equipment in. I don’t think my stomach can handle going back to the office coffee, and it’s nice to have a taste of home with you.
    – Don’t schedule meetings for the first hour- the transition time is nice, and I anticipate there will be one day I forget my laptop and will have to go back for it.

    I’m still adjusting to being tried – I’m rusty with my small talk skills, and am introverted. I also developed a habit of lounging in bed and reading or watching Real Housewives during my lunch hour when working from home, which broke up the day, so I’m still working on getting into a rhythm. But, if we can give ourselves and others some grace- we’ll get through the adjustment period.

  55. Cricket*

    I’ve been working mostly in-person since April. Most of my workplace (manufacturing) is in person. Only half of employees are vaccinated (huge yikes) and there are few precautions. It’s really frustrating.

    I had to get an entire new work wardrobe. I got some new clothes that are truly exciting to wear, which is fun!

    A lot of commenters have mentioned feeling really tired. I have too. My therapist says that it’s trauma: we have all experienced chronic trauma over the past year and a half. I’ve been focusing on getting enough sleep and keeping a schedule, but I still would like to make some improvements in this area.

    Best of luck, friends.

  56. Formerpublicaccountant*

    I ripped the band aide off and went back last January. What I’ve done:

    1) Flexible dress code, see if your office will allow jeans/more casual wear. Since my return was voluntary, I’ve been wearing jeans and management made it officially allowable a month ago!

    2) Flexible start/end times. I have found that leaving by 3:30, and working remotely as necessary in the evening has been wonderful. I get absolutely nothing useful done between 3:30-5:30 and my work output is better if I know I can leave early.

    3) Snack/coffee/ ect. Make sure you are prepared to have some of the more communal things gone. I bought a French press for coffee and my own snacks.

    1. J!*

      There is communal coffee here, but I don’t actually want to spend a bunch of time in the tiny communal kitchen to deal with it so I brought in my French press from home so I can make coffee in my office. It’s been really helpful!

  57. AuntAmy*

    If you have pets, I suggest adding more structure to their routine about a month in advance: work on (or reinstate) crate training, find a dog walker or pet sitter if you’re able to, etc. I know it will be less stressful when I start going back to know that my dogs can relax in their crates because we practiced it. The cat doesn’t care, as is his way.

    1. Jackalope*

      I’m going to say that the hardest part of going back to the office (which I’m only doing one day a week now) is being away from my cats. We’ve gotten so used to spending lots of time together that I miss them when I’m in the office! My first day back in the office was significantly full of me sharing cat pictures and my coworker sharing dog pictures. OP, you may not have that as your big issue, but there will probably be things like this that will cause you a sense of loss or being off-kilter or whatever. Be prepared for that.

      (Related: my first day back in the office felt almost like I was starting a new job, only I knew my coworkers. So many things had changed, so many things were different from how I do them at home, and several things I had forgotten. I tried to look at it like that – if I were at a brand new job I wouldn’t expect myself to know everything or be at 100% productivity or anything. So I couldn’t expect that for going back into the office either.)

  58. goducks*

    Have an open mind about the experience. I have noticed that people who thought it would be terrible but were willing to give it a try have often found that there were things about being in the office that they like and and forgotten about. Focus on the little joys. The readily available printers. The fast connection to servers without VPN. The podcast you stopped listening to when you stopped commuting but can catch up on now.

    1. BugSwallowersAnonymous*

      Yes! I’m trying to focus on the good things – walking to my favorite coffee place near work, having a printer, being able to turn to my coworkers and ask a question, people bringing in snacks.

  59. giraffecat*

    Yes! The increased socialization is what got me when people started going back to the office. I’ve been going into the office a couple days a week for a while now, but most everyone else was still working from home. During the past year I could go 2-3 days without talking to another person at all, so now coming into the office and talking with 5-6 people in one day was a lot! I was surprised at how much that exhausted me.

  60. Chickaletta*

    I’ve been going back on a hybrid schedule for a month – I go into the office in the mornings and work from home in the afternoons when my son gets out of school. And while there have been a few extra hassles like waking up earlier to get dressed and commute, remembering to pack my lunch every day, and hauling my laptop back and forth… it’s honestly not that bad. I’ve been able to roll with it and it’s not better or worse than working from home all the time, it’s just different.

  61. All the words*

    Please wear masks, and wear them properly. Really please keep following all the recommendations.

    I’m one of those who’s been in the office every day this whole time. Working around people who refuse to mask. And we’re not to ask anyone to mask up.

    Luckily my employer pushed back the return date, but honestly thinking about an influx of bodies right now is a little stress inducing.

  62. C-Suite Diva*

    If you’re only going back on a limited basis, do yourself a favor and buy duplicates of your laptop charger, headphones and other tech accessories that you can keep in a work bag while you keep another set at home (or wherever you spend most of your work time). I have been back to the office one day per week for a few months and while it was nice to see and socialize with colleagues, constantly having to pack up every little thing was making me feel like I was always in transit and never settled. For $50, I was able to solve the problem (and have a backup in place should anything go wrong).

    1. TryingHard*

      +1. And don’t assume IT has extras if you forget something. I work nonprofit so we honestly don’t have the budget to keep extras.

      And be sure you bring your laptop. At least twice a week I get someone who visits my office having left their laptop at home. NO we don’t have any extras to loan because we loaned everything to help people WFH. Be responsible.

  63. Semprini!*

    From the Learn From My Mistakes files:

    If you wear makeup to the office but haven’t been wearing makeup during the pandemic (or have only been putting it on for an hour to zoom), do full office makeup one day a week or two before you go back, and try to wear it for a full day to see how your face handles it.

    Some products may have gone bad in ways that can’t be perceived externally, your skin’s tolerance for some products may have changed, the way products wear out over the course of the day may have changed . . . basically you want a chance to pinpoint and troubleshoot any problems in advance so you’re not sitting there with puffy eyelids and hours left in your day and no micellar water in sight.

    1. GRA*

      Totally agree with this! Also – since I’ve gone back to the office, but we are all wearing masks, I only do my eye make-up. The rest of my face stays make-up free and it’s glorious!

    2. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      I know this would be terribly expensive for some, but throw out makeup if it’s over a year old generally. It can mold as well as expire. Consider throwing out / replacing anything that touches your skin…brushes, puffs, sponges, etc.

    3. nnn*

      Similarly, if you wear a bra to the office but haven’t been wearing a bra all day at home, do a bra trial run NOW, so you have time to find an alternative if your bra is suddenly unworkable.

  64. Kate*

    Along with clothes, finding masks that you like and feel comfortable in. I have fold-style N95s from a medical supply company, set up my little system to rotate them out before I came back. They fit so much more comfortably than the draggled cloth ones I’ve been washing since March 2020. Think through your plan for lunch, drinking water, what you’ll say if someone tries to push your boundaries with masking, etc.

  65. I've been here awhile*

    As someone who was one of the first to return full time in office last summer after only 3 months at home, I can’t speak to the transition because mine was relatively easy. But one thing I do want to say, is if you have a small group of people who have been coming in for awhile, ask them about their systems and respect those systems (especially with regard to covid). When our “you must be in person” date happened this summer, it was really frustrating to have people who hadn’t been here in year trying to reinvent the wheel! Learn what we’re already doing around shared spaces, lunch breaks, masks and cleaning before you start trying to make changes. I’m not saying don’t provide input but do not come in like you know what’s best!

    1. Jaydee*

      We have the same list! I have a long commute and missed my podcasts (and recently found some new ones too!)

      The faster connection without VPN is HUGE for me. We have great internet at home, so it’s not even as much of a time lag for me as it likely is for others. But I have ADHD and can totally lose focus in the amount of time it takes a file to open or save at home. In the office? I click the file and it’s open before I have time to think about something else. I edit the file and save it, and boom it’s saved before I can even look away. It’s amazing!

      Also, on the days we’re both in the office, I can just talk to my officemate about work stuff instead of scheduling a call or sending an email. We just randomly ask each other questions or tell each other our thoughts on projects and stuff. It’s great!

  66. drpuma*

    I bought a new laptop-friendly messenger bag. In the Before Times I could leave my laptop at my office but my office will start a hybrid schedule which means I’m soon to be lugging it back and forth, and I want to be able to do so comfortably. I also plan to stock up on extra, hopefully more comfortable masks.

    1. amcb13*

      Oh yeah, I’m a teacher and taught in person last year as well as this year. I’ve amassed quite a pile of cloth masks so before school started this year I washed them all (ok, my husband did) and went through and tried them on with my glasses and the little silicone mask bracket I use to keep the fabric out of my mouth while I’m teaching. If they didn’t form a good seal/weren’t comfy/led to excessive glasses fog, they got taken out of the rotation. Now I have a basket of masks I know I like by the door, which is great on my way out each day.

  67. Krabby Patty*

    As a classic introvert and loner, but quietly sociable, I LOVED working from home 100% – No porch pirates! My own bathroom! Cooking my lunch! The cats all day! I mean, the CATS!! A quick load of laundry, whenever! – but had to go back to work onsite 100% about 2 months ago.

    I decided to try to re-create WFH in my office. It’s worked pretty well, as I complete my daily tasks and responsibilities exclusively online, and grand-boss and boss are big fans of masks, social distancing, and virtual meetings. The even higher ups, though, want us to party likes it’s 2019. “But it isn’t 2019!!!” I scream in my head.

    Anyway, that’s my suggestion, i.e. try to outfit your office space (if you have your own with a door that closes) to be home as much as possible.

    I wish you well.

  68. DC Fed*

    One thing I’m curious about is how to adjust/prep for going back when your going back date keeps changing? We get a date, then it’s cancelled and we’re up in the air for awhile, then we get a later date, rinse and repeat.

  69. Jigglypuff*

    My office implemented a color-coded sticker that you could place on your cubicle to indicate how much interaction you were comfortable with. I don’t remember the exact wording, but there were three options – one for “I’m happy to chat with you and hugs/high fives are great,” one for “I am happy to chat in a limited fashion,” and one for “I’m still keeping my distance right now.” I appreciated that they realized that not everyone is ready to be back to ‘normal’ and that some people are still hesitant yet are back in their cubicles b/c the decision wasn’t theirs.

  70. duck*

    Everyone is welcome to their struggles, whatever privilege they have. It’s not a competition.

    However, some perspective might help. I have done white collar professional roles and I’ve also done customer facing, on my feet roles for low wages.

    The way some well paid white collar professionals carry on about work is quite strange sometimes. I am sure going back to work after what may be 1.5 years is challenging. Yet some are carrying on like they are being deployed to a war torn country.

    In general well paid white collar workers often have zero perspective. The issues are minor, the volume of complaint loud.

    By all means have your coping strategies but one of those might be to have some perspective on that fact that sitting down all day in an office for reasonable pay is something lots of people don’t get to do and we find the whining a little tough some days.

    1. Sylvia*

      That’s very true–I often lose sight of that. To add another perspective, I used to work retail and was complaining about my job to a friend who was in the Peace Corps. She said, “You’re lucky to have an inside job.” She went on to say that there are lots of people in the world for whom that is the ultimate career goal–to work indoors for a reliable and regular wage. (And still there are others who would be happy for any job or wage, even out in the hot sun.)
      So maybe another thing to add to ease the transition would be to practice gratitude every morning for our jobs and the people at our jobs. (Well, that might be hard at some workplaces, but maybe gratitude for the IT department or the cleaning person). According to the self-help gurus, that actually has a lot of benefits and can change one’s outlook on life.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        This, to be honest, frequently has a) the opposite effect (see ‘toxic positivity’ for just how wrong it can get) and b) the side effect of making people pity those in jobs like say IT, security, building etc. which can be pretty offensive.

        It’s like the ‘start the day with thanks that you’ve not got a disability like Keymaster at work!’ thing (which I’ve overheard and had said to me) It’s kinda othering.

        Not saying you’re doing any of this negative stuff! Just offering another perspective.

        1. duck*

          It’s not about toxic positivity, which I do not like.

          It’s about having perspective on the size of your issues. I know some people with struggles can find small tasks overwhelming, but for arguments sake I’m talking about regular well people.

          Just consider that to be a reasonably paid white collar worker in America writing about how incredibly delicate you are that when you go back to work your favourite mug may no longer comes across a bit much sometimes. Office issues are real and annoying but the language around them sometimes is a bit over the top. Yes, Karen microwaved smelly fish. It’s annoying. You will live.

          It is not a competition but even outside of the pandemic I found some office workers over dramatic about their struggles. No doubt that stuff is annoying but just keep it in perspective. Especially during a pandemic when healthcare workers are breaking down and those of us who work in frontline customer roles are dealing with some very angry anti-mask, anti-everything people.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            I guess I just don’t see what it has to do with the original post, asking for tips for those returning to the office?

            I could be totally reading you wrong of course, and I’m sorry if that is the case.

            1. duck*

              My tip for returning to the office is to have perspective. Yes, your issues are real. Having to get up earlier is genuinely going to throw you out for while.

              But some issues sound quite coddled and over dramatic. Keep in mind some perspective that at the end of the day office workers are doing not so bad, especially ones who got to WHF for awhile.

              This comes from my actual practice of wellness. I try to keep perspective on some issues and not let them consume me. Try to remember some of these return to office issues are fairly small fry and well not toxically positive do count yourselves lucky that it could be much worse work-wise

              1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

                I can see where you’re coming from. I don’t agree with it, but thanks for clarifying.

      2. Allonge*

        If this is strictly voluntary, then I can see it work in some places.

        But I want to go back, will happily go back to the office for 4 days a week – and yet, the scheduled gratitude thing makes me twitchy, pandemic or not. Make it opt-in is the key.

  71. Rachel*

    Came back 3 days in office May 2021 after more than a year at home. I missed my co-workers a lot and was glad to be back. Fortunately, we are a very casual office and I can work in jeans/sneakers. The waist band and zipper was a surprise after a year of sweats, but I got into the stretchy jeans OK!

  72. Storm in a teacup*

    Accept you will be less productive than you have been at home due to commuting times. It’s been a major discussion point in our office – we’re all doing a lot more and our managers have flagged we need to think about realistic workload when we go back to hybrid working.
    I’ve been going back once every 7-10 days the last few months for specific meetings (still hybrid) and the meetings themselves F2F have been so much better and it’s been lovey to have some social niceties with colleagues and see what people look like IRL!
    If I went in solely to sit on zoom I probably wouldn’t be as happy about it. I made sure I knew the local sandwich and coffee shop were back open so I didn’t have to worry about lunch and it was a joy not to have to make it for once!
    Also our office asks us all to book in prior to attending. On my first day in I got given a goodie bag too (masks, sanitiser, tissues and a reusable coffee cup) which was a nice touch and also emphasised the need to still utilise these.
    The one thing I wish my company would do is confirm what days we are expected to be in the office longer term so I can plan my schedule accordingly.

  73. Mynona*

    1. Minimize group in-person, in-office catch-ups until you have a sense of how anxious your colleagues are about being around a lot other people, even masked.
    2. Noise-canceling headphones: my office is 100% on-site, but in-person meetings are prohibited. So all my neighbors are on Zoom meetings all the time. The cubicles are much noisier than before.
    3. Evaluate your work schedule for ways to be happier. I’m exempt and tended to work without breaks and longer than required hours before the pandemic. Now I go on lunchtime jogs and negotiated a later start time. Working from home for the first time in my career helped me learn more about my preferences and encouraged me to find ways to accommodate them (in my traditional/inflexible office).

  74. amcb13*

    Well before the first day I went back I made a checklist on my phone called “how to go to work” and made sublists of morning routine (including things like “brush hair”, “take meds”, and “put on deodorant” that I still did during WFH but which I could do during the day if I forgot) and things I would need to bring (keys, wallet, cellphone, water bottle, planner, etc.) That helped me prepare mentally as I could add things over several days whenever I thought of one, and it helped me in the mornings as I got ready.

  75. Lizzie*

    Since July, I’ve transitioned back to one day a week in the office. Not by choice, but that’s what we started with, were supposed to go to 2 days until Labor Day, and then back to “normal”, whatever that may be! My bosses were fine with one day a week, and management put full time return to office on hold for now. I really thought I wanted to come back, but after doing it for 6 weeks or so, honestly, I prefer home!

    That being said, what I do is get everything ready the night before. Since I’m not yet comfortable using the Keurig here or the water cooler, it means making a thermos of coffee and filling a water bottle to bring. I do that and prep the coffee the night before. I also decided I am allowed to buy lunch that day vs. bringing it. One less thing for me to do. I also pick out my outfit the night before (wasn’t always doing this when in the office full time)

    And finally, I try and get up a smidge earlier; my normal routine is get up, make coffee, go back to bed with it and watch the news for an hour or so, and then start working. The day o in, I only “lounge” for maybe half the time. So far, so good. I also try and have something for dinner that’s easy, since I’m usually tired and not motivated to cook on the day I go in.

    Things may change if and when we go back to “normal”. My plan is to work from home 2 -3 days, and come in the others, so I’m, sure I’ll be packing lunch then. But for now, I like he one day as it allows me to ease back into things.

  76. Beth*

    Hoping this is on topic and not off on a tangent . . .

    First, a plea to managers and bosses NOT to act as if everything is just hunky-dory right now. It isn’t. When my bosses returned to the office, our safety protocols were thrown aside just as Delta began to skyrocket, which squandered all the good will and trust in management that had accumulated during the first wave of the pandemic. As in so many cases, attitude is huge — the transition is hard enough without having to cope with a sudden hard right turn into Entitled Jerk Boss Territory.

    Second — if you’re coming back to an office where others have been coming in all along, remember that we’ve just had a rough year and a half of holding the fort in a half-empty office. Be kind to us. We’re glad to see you again, but at the same time we’re no longer used to having our free space full of people and noise. (This is quite apart from the aspect of being resentful over how we had to come in while you “got to stay home” — a topic that’s already been discussed here a good deal, for which I am very grateful.)

  77. Chilipepper Attitude*

    We were back in the building in May of 2020 and had clients back in Sept 2020 so I was only working from home for about 3 months – but I have not seen this comment so I will add it.

    We did not all come back at the same exact date – some had extra medical or other leave. So those of us back in the building got used to new routines about distancing and masks and TEAMs calls instead of going to an office to have meetings.

    Then others started coming back and THEY DID NOT KNOW THE NEW ROUTINES!! It surprised me how much this was a stressor. Like we all knew how to navigate the new normal because we had sort of created it together, those just coming back did things “wrong” and it was so awkward and stressful. So maybe be prepared for that.

  78. Selina Luna*

    From an employee standpoint, make it a point to wear the kinds of clothes you might expect to wear at the office even when you’re working from home. If you would typically wear a collared shirt or a bra, wear one now to get back in the habit.
    For employers: please, please begin to see denim as work-appropriate. I beg you.

  79. RJ*

    It’s all going to depend on your company and how frequently you’re going into the office, but try to see if you can return to the office gradually. My former co-workers tell me this has made a vast difference in helping them readjust to a commute and to being around a lot of people that they haven’t worked with face to face in nearly years. Be patient with yourself and don’t expect the same amount of productivity during this transitional time. Adjusting to any routine takes time and care.

  80. Thursdaysgeek*

    Our company made the decision that most people can work from home if they have fast enough internet, a good setup, and work that doesn’t need the office (most of it), and had a phased return to office for the rest of us. I’ve been in the office since June, some come in on a hybrid schedule (a few days a week), and many haven’t come back at all.

    What is odd is being surrounded by empty cubes and an even more silent office. We have a nice two story office building, and my floor can probably hold about 30-35 people, and there are never as many as 10 here. There is a bit of socialization, but no-where near as much as there used to be.

    It makes me wonder about the future of office buildings. Who will want to pay for a mostly empty building? But no-one else will need it either. At least for now, our company isn’t changing – they will continue to maintain a mostly empty building.

    1. Nancy Drew*

      It’s interesting you say this. I’ve been hybrid and was back F/T earlier than most. Much of our new building was very empty before the mandated back-to-work F/T date. Rumor has it that while many, many employees can WFH, they’ve been forced back because the powers-that-be are trying to demonstrate that our building is still needed. Our lease isn’t up for several years and we have to “present a good front” as part of a state institution. It’s been a huge morale-buster for our staff and most are unhappy with the situation.

    2. not that kind of Doctor*

      Our building was bursting pre-covid, and parking was a bear. No one wants to go back to that. A lot of people hired during covid don’t have a desk or even a place to put one. It’s a factory so there are plenty of people who have to be onsite; bringing everyone else back full-time would just make things harder for them. Morale is on a knife edge right now – the owner made some dick moves during the pandemic & hasn’t made things right yet – so anything we can do to avoid making people’s lives harder is a win.

  81. Boring, but important*

    For managers, make sure your building’s safety mechanisms are still in place. Check the first aid kits to make sure nothing is expired. Check the batteries in your AEDs. Have your smoke detectors and fire extinguishers checked. Make sure all the emergency exits are still operable. Make sure the emergency plan is up to date. Make sure people (especially those that may have been hired remotely) know what to do if there’s a fire. Having a planned/announced fire drill in the first few weeks back is probably not a bad idea.

  82. Sasha Blause*

    If you’re lucky enough to have a private office, a “True HEPA” air scrubber is great. Personally I didn’t bother with those that advertise filtration of sars-cov-2 (those are an overpriced marketing gimmick and kind of a lie anyway… during my pre-purchase info gathering I learned that HEPA filters have a standardized grading scale; the $900 “coronavirus” filters are of a lower grade than my $100 one).

    Costuming tape (aka lingerie tape or fabric tape) for prolonged mask-wearing. My face is short and my bruxism nightguard has caused my chin to recede a bit over the past few years, so masks turn into blindfolds within minutes. Unless I hang my mouth open and poke out my jaw as far as I can, which of course I can’t maintain for the duration of a meeting. So I stick costuming tape around the edge of my KN95s, then stick the whole thing to my face. Also helps with somewhat reducing the ear and scalp pain because my ears are doing less work.

    The hardest part has been getting used to all but giving up my hobbies. To manage my health, I need lots of sleep plus a semi-specialized diet that’s incompatible with those dinner kit subscriptions. Just keep telling yourself that you’re lucky to still have a job and a place to live and food to eat. I keep telling myself that nobody is entitled to more than one hobby, and parents don’t even get that much, so be content and grateful with the life I have!

    1. Sasha Blause*

      Oh, and foot-shaped shoes! I found that after a year and a half of going barefoot or occasionally in foot-shaped running shoes, my forefeet no longer fit into most of my shoes. The creasing in the ball of my foot and the feeling of the toes being pushed together and unspreadable was sending me straight to sensory hell. So I got a pair of those weird foot glove shoes that look kinda like ballet flats. Also a pair of more normal-looking foot shaped dressyish shoes (Lems NineToFive, they are my holy grail shoe).

      Now that I think about it, new pants too. I bought a couple pairs of those “yoga denim” jeans on sale and with a coupon, and another pair off Poshmark. They’re outrageously expensive at full price, but pants tend to pinch as soon as I sit down, and I can’t concentrate on work while my pants are trying to make sweet love to me and failing painfully.

  83. Just Another Cog*

    A couple of thoughts:

    1) My division proved that we all — from directors to hourly project admins – can work successfully from home. We were pointed at by the larger organization as examplars.
    So now that we’re moving back to FTF, there’s a lovely divide developing between hourly support staff, who are being held to a rigorous plan for return, and salaried workers, who are being allowed to take a much more touchy-feely approach to when they plan to show up.
    And this sucks. And is, frankly, going to cause resentment, productivity loss, and probably the loss of capable staff. If Content Creator Barbara can decide each morning whether her schedule permits her to come in person (and can thus flex to deal with ongoing children-going-to-school-during-Delta trauma), there is ZERO reason Project Admin Betsy should not also be able to flex and stay home on short notice. And yet. AND YET.

    2) Related: I found that my public transit options had changed, and significantly, as a result of our region retooling routes and timings during COVID. This meant that I literally could not return to my old routine, and it has thrown me off way more than I expected. I’d encourage everyone to check for that, and also encourage employers to have some grace for everyone — again, ESPECIALLY hourly employees – while they navigate this. Pouncing on someone about a 10-minute schedule variance because the bus drops them in a new place is again, crappy.

    1. not that kind of Doctor*

      ugh, yes! My bus was just about to move to a frequent-service schedule (every 15min) before covid, which would have made my life so much easier. Instead, it’s gone to once every hour and a half, and that’s very hard to work with.

  84. Mental Lentil*

    Please keep in mind that some of us have been in the office the entire time, holding everything down so that others could work remotely.

    I don’t want to hear any of your griping and complaining that you have to come in for two days a week (oh, the horror!) or that certain standards went downhill a bit (there just wasn’t time to water all the plants and pinch dead leaves on a regular basis, sorry, I was busy making your WFH a possibility).

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, it’s a matter of knowing your audience if you want to gripe or vent. This applies to everything, not just returning to the office.

  85. TiredTeacher*

    I’m a teacher in Scotland so we have been fully remote, then fully in (unmasked) then fully remote, then (briefly) fully in with the pupils part time and latterly fully in (masked).

    You will be knackered, you have full permission to go to bed ridiculously early if you need to. Pace yourself on any non work social commitments if you can. Also you will be hungry – take plenty of snacks. Consider your liquid intake if you’re not in a job where you can use the bathroom on demand as your bladder has forgotten this! If you have the option of hybrid it’s worth exploring but you do get back into the swing of it quickly. We have a version of this every year when we go back after the long summer!

  86. Irish girl*

    I started back 2 days a week in April after I was fully vaxed since I had to bring my daughter to preschool those mornings. We have no food service, none of my coworkers were in the office and no one i interact with for my job was in the office. I still had Teams calls and video meetings just like at home. I have a relatively short commute of about 15 mins door to desk. The biggest challenge for me was food. I dont just mean at the office but at home as well. Trying to plan quick dinners those nights vs what i could make on days i was WFH. Also making breakfast and lunch to pack and bring in the night before so i was not rushed or overslept since i had no options at the office like in before time.

    Over the summer I was in less but more people in the overall company were coming back so i was able to see former co-workers and catch up. We are still not at our phase 3, everyone is hybrid yet as that has been pushed to October but I will still be in 3 days a week until then. It will be intresting to see what other members of my team will do and what days they will be in if any. Half my team is permanent remote in other geographic locations so the team will not likely have any in person meetings.

    I mostly go in the office to get away from my children following me around when i leave my office. Plus office has AC which my house does not. Having to plan my clothes to the indoor temp at work is much different than my stuffy basement.

  87. Alyn*

    We started back 3 days/week in the office in July, and the first few weeks were very rough for me – getting things set up at my desk in a way that was at least semi-comfortable (things got moved around for cleaning/maintenance while we were fully remote); getting used to wearing shoes and a bra for 8+ hours a day; trying to get used to a lot more background noise & smells than I deal with at home; figuring out how long my morning routine takes when I’m going into the office (still haven’t fully sorted that one), etc.

    The noise and smells are the hardest for me to deal with – both my spouse & I are scent sensitive, so we use unscented everything. Being around other people’s perfumes/colognes/etc. is headache inducing. Haven’t figured out a good solution for that. For the background noise, I invested in a pair of noise cancelling headphones, which I use when at the office. It helps somewhat.

    I’ve also given myself permission to leave the office part way through the day if things become overwhelming. The first few weeks back, I don’t think I worked more than 4 hours in the office on any given day; I would drive home and finish my day remotely because I couldn’t cope. As time has gone on, I’ve become more adjusted to being in the office and I am more able to complete full days there. I really only leave if it’s exceptionally noisy and I have a project to complete that requires a lot of focus.

  88. SomeThoughts*

    A few observations from going back:
    – First and foremost, follow all the safety protocols (company wide and CDC recommended)! It’s nerve-wracking enough to go back, dealing with non-compliance is worse.
    – Test out your masks for use for more than an hour, it’s very different to wear one all day. Bring a spare one if you can.
    – Make sure you plan for the first morning/day to be setting up your space – cleaning the area, finding your stapler that mysteriously went missing, updating photos of loved ones, setting up the post-it notes that make work easier, etc.
    – Then make sure you plan for a lot of time catching up with co-workers. People have had children/grandchildren, had family members pass away, gotten married, engaged… There is a lot to catch up to!
    – Having said that, pace yourself and others on the catching up. Social interactions are hard and most of us are rusty.
    – If you’re an extrovert and/or super happy to be back, please understand that many people do not share your enthusiasm. Give people the space to be a little anti-social. (I’m thinking of my co-worker who comes by my desk every half hour or so with a question that could be an email or some other excuse to chat…)
    – Realize that there are habits you picked up working from home that will not work in the office. I got in the habit of catching up on my email inbox or easy little tasks during low engagement Zoom calls. That doesn’t fly when you’re in a room with your co-workers and they can see what you’re doing.
    – You will be way more tired! It takes effort to get ready and get to work. There will also be more interruptions which takes cognitive effort to manage. It will be stressful sharing space with people that have their own ideas of safe behaviors. All of these things take effort.
    – But if you can, rejoice at the chance to go back to leaving work at work instead of letting it follow you around all the time.

  89. Joey*

    I found the best way to ease back in is much easier if you have an office, with a door that can close. In other words if you can physically be at work, but continue to act is if you’re remoting (as little face to face contact as possible) that helped me control the amount of close contact with others. For me that’s the scariest part, when the close contact with others is not within your control. And of course masks, distancing, and limiting the number of people you come in contact with helps

  90. Serious Pillowfight*

    My company is allowing three days remote, two days in person. For whatever reason, most of the rest of my team is still coming in five days a week. I refuse to do that, but I’m finding myself typing into the void because those in the office “forget” to have our messaging system open even though there’s someone working remotely (me). My advice to those going back in is not to forget about your colleagues who are still remote!

  91. Office Lobster DJ*

    Consider a commute dry run, if you can. Traffic or transit patterns are not going to be what you remembered.

  92. Teapot Wrangler*

    One of the things I’ve found weirdest is days when most other people aren’t in. Because we’re still on a phased return, I can be the only one in sight and that feels oddly lonely / siloed in a way working from home doesn’t.

    Try on clothes and shoes in advance. Bring make up with you if you need to touch it up during the day (the stuff in your desk has probably dried out by now).

    I had an hour long virtual meeting at my desk this week which I hated – I feel so rude speaking so much when people are trying to work. I’ve always tried to book a meeting room if I knew I was going to be speaking a lot but it feels worse than pre-pandemic.

    Check your train times! My public transport timetables have been reduced due to staff shortages so the train I would usually get to the office isn’t running at the moment. I’m also trying to come in very early or very late to miss the rush hour. If you can, coming in late and leaving early and just working more another day really helped me with the tiredness until that was vetoed by the big bosses.

    Check if the places near you are open for lunch. I would usually get lunch from three or four places nearby. They’re all currently closed so I will need to walk further to grab lunch at work. So far, I’ve just not eaten in the office as I’d prefer to stay masked until I hear whether the air con has a decent filter but if I get hungry, I intend to get a treat lunch!

    This week was the first day that my area of the office had a lot of people in it and it was really nice to see people but there’s definitely a range of comfort with covid – one team over the way were hugging and chatting non stop. Very glad that my team aren’t trying to dive in for hugs!!!

  93. DrSalty*

    I’ve been going back 2 days a week since July. For me, the toughest part was remembering how long it takes to get ready in the morning. Gotta make a lunch, pack my laptop, water the plants, etc etc. I remembered to plan time for the commute but not all that! I’d say get everything ready the night before so you’re not chasing stuff down last minute.

  94. Cee*

    Im back three days a week ( up from 1 day a week for the last year or so).

    I’ve found incentivizing my onsite days really helps me look forward to them so I can reset my brain to feel happy about going into the office.

    For me, its things like choosing to buy lunch rather than bringing it so I can revisit my favorite spots ( the ones that survived) and try out new places in the neighborhood. I’ve also been grabbing an extra coffee or a cookie with my coffee on in person days to treat myself. I guess most of my incentives are food based, but thats just me.

  95. Nancy Drew*

    As a hybrid and then back F/T employee, something I forgot to plan for was how much time it takes randomly driving around the parking lots now, looking for an empty spot! I factor in a little extra time for this, now, and the longer walk to our building.

  96. Mona-Lisa Saperstein*

    We got called back to the office FT very suddenly in March. I was very nervous about it at first, but the transition back was actually much easier and more seamless than I expected. I had worked here for 7 years before the pandemic, and I had already taken maternity leave twice, so it all felt pretty normal for me when I returned. The anxiety of “how will it feel” (prompted, at least in part, by others’ anxiety about that) was so much worse than the actual day-to-day experience. I have found that I like being back in the office. I can still work from home pretty much whenever I want, but I choose not to do that most of the time. YMMV, of course, but it might just feel like a big old nothingburger once you finally sit down at your desk.

  97. Hiring Mgr*

    I’ve been alternating between home and office for years, so my transition’s been very smooth thus far. (Going in 3-4 days a week, but our company has made it optional either way)

  98. LizB*

    After a very rough couple of weeks, a plea to management who are bringing people back: please, please, have good plans for what to do in case of COVID exposure in the office, and be prepared to actually implement them. Have your procedures written out ahead of time. At a minimum, have a plan for:

    – How a team member who tests positive should notify the company, and how the person they tell should get the word to the relevant people
    – What kind of timeline you’re worried about – if Joe tests positive on Friday, what do you do if he was last in the office on Thursday vs Monday vs last week? Where’s your time threshold for worrying about exposures?
    – How to identify anyone who overlapped with the covid-positive person in the office, and how to inform those people of their next steps
    – What those people should do (test or not test, quarantine/wfh or not and for how long)
    – What, if any, deep-cleaning will be carried out, and the timeline for getting those done
    – What the requirement is before people can return to in office work, both the covid-positive person and the others who may have been exposed

    In my very recent experience, it’s very easy to assume that someone else will handle pieces of the plan (“Oh, the maintenance people will know to sanitize everything” or “I thought so-and-so was going to inform you” or “the state is supposed to call you if you need to get tested”). Don’t do that. Assume you’ll have to implement it yourself with little to no guidance from other authorities, especially if any of your plans are even a little bit more conservative than the current CDC recommendations. And please, please don’t wait for an incident to figure out how you’re going to respond when one happens. Your stressed out employees will thank you for thinking ahead.

    1. Cat Lady*

      Echoing this! In my state, health authorities never contacted us for a positive family member who had sustained close contact with others, maskless, to contact trace (under age for masking and in childcare) pre-Delta, when things were quiet. It was all on parents to independently tell folks.

      With Delta surging, I’ll bet workplaces are in the same place—don’t rely on anyone else to contact trace for you.

  99. Pobody’s Nerfect*

    Not many people talk about this, but be careful in the bathrooms. Public restrooms are often small enclosed poorly-ventilated areas and thus are very risky for the spread of Covid. Don’t ever take off your mask(s) in the bathroom, get in and out and quickly as possible. Don’t stop and talk with others in there. Brushing teeth should wait until home. If the toilets have lids, lower it before flushing to cut down on plume particles. Everyone has to use the bathroom, but how many employers have spent the money & time to improve ventilation systems for them (and for all workplace areas)? I’m guessing not many.

  100. Policy Wonk*

    Some good thoughts here. One thing I noticed was traffic/parking can be a challenge. I wasn’t expecting it because the numbers of people in the office are still low due to the Delta variant, but people are nervous about taking public transportation so more are driving to work. As you return to work you need to figure out transportation options. If you hadn’t been driving to work but now are, be sure to secure parking and scope out alternate routes in case there is an accident or other problem on your planned route to work.

  101. At Least I Have Audiobooks*

    The hardest thing I found was my morning commute. I live an hour away from work and when I started going back in a few times a week I was consistently late– something that had never been a problem with me before.

    My problem was that, with so few people on the road for a year, my area decided to go on a road repair spree (finally and much needed!). Between the complicated construction configurations that seemed to change every few days and people apparently forgetting how to drive with other people around, I was running into 45+ minute delays due to accidents.

    On an average day, Google Maps would tell me that my proposed route would be 45 minutes as I left for work. And then that would be pushed back and pushed back as the accidents started piling up. In an average morning my commute has 4 accidents, and on one really bad day I counted 9. I’ve started to budget 2 hours each way and that seems to cover everything, but it has been a tough adjustment!

    1. alienor*

      I’ve noticed some very wacky driving in my area too. I’ve been driving for 30 years and was never nervous on the road before, but every trip out to do errands lately feels like I’m in a driving video game where everyone else is on drugs.

  102. anon teacher*

    For me, being fully in-person has been permission to stop doing some things I never liked or wanted to do in the first place. Example: in the Before Times, my department would all eat lunch together, and I absolutely hated it – mostly an excessive amount of diet/weight talk, with occasional moments of genuine cruelty. I went, though, because Everybody Eats Lunch Together and there wasn’t a way around it.

    Now, though? Between how massively busy I am and rising case counts, I feel perfectly comfortable just…not doing that thing. Life is too short to spend my lunch break doing something I dislike.

    So that’s my big recommendation to employers: take a hard look at your “normal” and really think about which things you want to continue, and which things you’ve just been doing out of inertia.

  103. Cat Lady*

    Sharing the nerves on this! I think it’s going to take a lot of thinking through each stage of my day since the old “normal” isn’t an option. Things like planning how to make my subway trip as safe as possible (mask; extra and accessible hand sanitizer); prepping smoothies or soup for cold days to sip outside (and less formal food for warm days where you can eat in the park) since there’s no way to safely eat in a shared common room; how to coordinate hybrid meetings with folks staggering WFH vs. in office; and a lot of trial and error.

    It’s going to take a lot of planning, trial, and waking up early, as well as mentally shifting. I think it’s going to take time and giving myself and others grace. We had a lot of understanding when we abruptly went remote and need to give the same grace when shifting back (for those of us who stayed remote) after a year and a half of WFH as our new normal.

    Best of luck and stay safe, OP!

  104. Celia*

    We went back to the office in June and I wasn’t prepared for the emotional overload. Being back made me recall a lot of things I had tried to forget about how the company has treated us during the pandemic. For example, some colleagues in our other offices were called back in much earlier (May 2020!), and several people got COVID as a result of that decision. I didn’t fully consider the emotional impact ahead of time, and if I had, I think I would have spent some time reflecting and trying to process those feelings before heading back.

  105. Cassandra*

    I’m back full-time in the office from WFH and hybrid schedules and it was a bit of a bumpy ride. If it is at all possible to start part in-office/part WFH to ease that transition, do that. It did help.
    Maybe identify areas that might be the most problematic for you to get used to being back in the office. For me, I was used to not being interrupted/distracted. So, now I’m back in the office I will close my door or use my headphones a lot more than I had before WFH.
    Also, think about how the transition will affect your home life and make some plans. My commute to the office is 50 minutes by car and I deal with health issues that make me fatigued easily. Before going back, I started doing make-ahead meals so I wouldn’t have to cook once I commuted and got back home which made a big difference. I hadn’t realized until I started WFH how much the commute took from my energy reserves. So, that was something I had to plan for when going back into the office full-time.
    Good luck!

  106. PlantPerson*

    I had been working a 50/50 hybrid WFH schedule since the start of the pandemic, and now am in the office 90% of the week. The best piece of advice that I can give you is bringing the small comforts from the WFH life with you to the office. I put an even greater emphasis on meal prepping when I went back to the office, since having a tasty homecooked meal was one of my favorite parts of working from home. I’ll also pack my favorite snacks! I’ll also even bring a change of clothes to wear after lunch so I feel refreshed and ready to tackle the rest of the day. I’m lucky that I drive to work so I can pile all these things in the car.
    As for safety concerns, I’m fortunate to be vaccinated and that all but 1 of my coworkers are also vaccinated. Wearing a mask all day at work is annoying, but you really do get used to it. Best hack to avoid the dreaded mask-ne: rinse with mouthwash after eating. It kills any bacteria lingering in your mouth that can contribute to pimples!

  107. Elizabeth the Ginger*

    I’m a teacher and we went back part-time last October; this year we’re fully back. At my school we are keeping all the doors and windows open for extra ventilation. That means it’s COLD! The big tricks I’ve found that have saved me:
    * Layers, layers, layers, layers. Including having lightweight layers on for when I find myself in a room that’s overly hot because the heater is trying to accommodate a thermostat open near a window.
    * A plug-in heating pad that I put on my lap when I’m working at my desk. Heaven.
    * A giant thermos full of tea to last all day because our coffee/tea area was closed all last year. I got a Stanley one because I saw a lot of positive reviews from people who like to go ice fishing. It keeps the tea so hot all day long that I have to let it cool off in the mug after I pour it.

  108. A Genuine Scientician*

    My team (10-15 people) is nearly all made of individual contributors, most of whom have nearly complete autonomy of their schedules (3 in support roles have more defined schedules; everyone else is an exempt employee and we’ve never monitored hours, given the nature of everyone else’s jobs). A few things we’ve done that I think have been helpful:

    – All meetings are being run hybrid, so you can participate either in person or over video conference software. There are even some people who video in from their office down the hall from the conference room because of their personal risk tolerances. This is explicitly endorsed as reasonable by the boss, and is not something that leads to negative judgment.

    – In our main messaging system, we’ve pinned a spreadsheet where each person has filled out how they preferred to be contacted either for emergency or routine things (phone, chat program, email, text, etc), and what the expected response time is.

    – We added to that sheet a place for people to indicate what days they will routinely be at home / in the office, though obviously there will be day to day variability. This helps a lot in managing expectations.

    – Almost everyone on the team has a private office, so can be unmasked in their office, but masks are required in all common indoor spaces, regardless of vaccination status (this is an employer-wide requirement). Vaccinations are mandatory at this employer; you had until Aug 31 to submit the information about at least your first dose, and have until the end of Sept to get your 2nd dose. Vaccines are freely available on site and in over a dozen pharmacies within 10 miles.

    (I am still working entirely from home because I was asked to take on a role for a few months that is entirely online. Since we don’t currently have enough offices for everyone, I volunteered to not have an office while I’m remote, with the caveat that that meant I would be working entirely from home during that time. I’ll have an office when I’m back in person in a few months; we have specific plans on how that will happen. The online role is one that no one actually wants to do, so people were genuinely grateful when I agreed to do it, and no one objected to my therefore being entirely at home while doing it.)

  109. pagooey*

    I work in tech. Earlier this summer, my company implemented a voluntary vaccine registry: if you added a photo of your vaccine card to the registry, you got a sticker for your ID badge that entitled you to go maskless in the office. (This was before Delta, and a statewide mask mandate now supersedes this perk…but I appreciated the option.) If someone wasn’t wearing a mask, I could see from their badge at a glance that they were “safe,” and didn’t have to police colleagues or strangers myself.

    That said, they did not advertise it widely. In my small team, this meant that as each person trickled back in to the office, the vaccinated folks would glom onto them, walk them through the registration app, etc. We spent several hours of our first day back on this, one at a time. Between that and the sheer novelty of seeing each other in person again, no actual work was achieved that day.

  110. Stickler for Stickers*

    For some of us who haven’t seen colleagues in a long time, or haven’t met in person before, it can be tough to navigate personal preferences around distancing, so we are providing everyone with stickers to wear on their mask, or wherever they choose: Red Sticker = no contact & wave hello; Yellow Sticker= fist & elbow bumps OK; Green Sticker= high fives & handshakes OK. I got this from an upcoming conference that will be in person, and adapted it for my team as we transition to a hybrid schedule.

  111. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    I’ve been in several times in the last month, and one thing I’m doing is reconsidering what stuff to have in the office. Even basic stuff like stationery, filing equipment, printers – it’s a good opportunity to look at that all with a fresh set of eyes.

    1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      This is a good piece of advice. My office pretty much gutted our stuff — paper files, office supplies, surplus computer equipment, extra furniture… if we didn’t miss having it for the last 1.5 years, we really don’t need it now. I did feel bad throwing out perfectly good file folders, DVDs, labels, paperclips, fancy certificate paper, binders, etc., but we don’t need them and no one else does either. My boss who retired still had bottles of White Out!

  112. Purple Cat*

    The biggest challenge we’ve had is with scheduling meetings.
    It was easy when everyone was on zoom, but we’re now in a hybrid schedule and some days “most” but not “All” people are in the office, so we’re back to fighting for conference rooms, people forget to book conf rooms, and then we have the joy of hearing 3 people sitting next to each other all on the same zoom call because of the lack of rooms + a couple of people still remote.

    The office did get us all noise-cancelling headphones which is helping, but some days it is rough.

  113. sometimeswhy*

    The tiny, stupid thing that I’ve seen knocking people off their stride as they come back is their calendars, their physical calendars. They’re seeing them still at March 2020 and having some Big Hard Feelings so brace yourself.

    Most of my work is hands-on so I’ve been hybrid this whole time and I’ve started to put out the offer that I will quietly remove people’s desk or wall calendar for them before they come back if they want.

    1. sometimeswhy*

      And be prepared to be TIRED. Without exception, everyone I know who has transitioned back, regardless of when, has been exhausted at the end of their first day and slept through their first weekend after. Maybe start with a couple half days if you can, especially if you ride transit.

      Between the emotions and the new stimulation inputs and the social overload and the (for some people) vigilance associated with being out in the world in a way you have less control over than you do for voluntary trips, your body is going to throw everything it has at just keeping you upright and leave not much left for yourself after. You might think you’re fine and then just deflate when you get home. That would be a perfectly normal reaction. Not universal, but absolutely normal.

      1. Lars Ulrich's grandma*

        I found myself mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted the first week back.
        I’ve always been a social extrovert but the transition to being back at the office totally zonked me.

        I also find myself fatigued and not the same ambitious go-getter I used to be.

        I recently took B12 gummy vitamins to snap my mind back into shape.

      2. allathian*

        Yeah. I’m actually dreading the exhaustion more than anything else. I’ve always been tired after a day at the office, for my entire career. I just took it for granted. Sure, it was worse for a few months every time I switched jobs, until I learned my way around the new culture and got to know people better. I just figured the exhaustion was due to being surrounded by people as a chatty introvert. I enjoy talking to my coworkers, but it does leave me feeling drained after a day. But just being in a space with people I’m mostly at a friendly acquaintanceship level with, even if I’m not interacting with them directly, is tiring by itself. It’s only thanks to WFH that I’ve realized just how tiring it is.

    2. Slinky*

      This is a great idea! I have a dry erase board that I use to track upcoming events. It was frozen in March 2020. It had events from March-June, many of which didn’t happen (vacation to New York, conferences, professional development opportunity). Coming back in July 2021 and seeing all of that was just so sad. Worse, the marker had dried on. I had to douse it in rubbing alcohol to get it clean again.

  114. coldfeets*

    When you first go back, check in regularly (like, every hour or so) and see how your body and your emotions are feeling. I was surprised to realise that my office is warmer than my home! Pleasantly surprised! So not having cold feet all day made me love the office. I also realised that I liked my commute – each trip in the car I tried to spot one beautiful thing I saw.

    Also, take note of any patterns around your home work environment, and compare them with your first week back in the office. I quickly realised I was WAY more productive in the office and Thursdays (when apparently everyone in my area mows their lawn) no longer had me scrunched up with stress. But I missed out on the twice a day pat sessions with my cat. So, pros and cons. But knowing what exactly those pros and cons were helped me appreciate the pros and manage the cons (I bought a fluffy cat keychain that I stroke whenever I had to sit back and ruminate on something).

    Now is a great time to consider when you NEED to be in the office, and when working from home makes just as much sense, and to have conversations with your manager about it. When my office opened back up, there was a strong push for EVERYONE to go back in. But that really eased up over the next two months (partly due to staff push back, partly due to ongoing outbreaks around the country). So now a lot of us work from home on a part time or ad-hoc basis, and can keep enjoying the home perks.

  115. Jonquil*

    I’m in Australia, so I’ve had the experience of going back to the office (which lasted about 6 months) and then going back into lockdown and working from home(where I am now).

    My biggest lesson was that I actually like being in the office a couple of days a week. It’s nice to get out of the house; it can be hard to share an office with my spouse all the time, doing different jobs and with different approaches to working, and it’s useful to be able to run errands on my lunch break. I tried to focus on those small positives – shopping on my break, buying lunch, chatting with my colleagues – and gave myself some small treats to look forward to (budget depending), like a new work outfit, or a coffee from my favourite place.

    The main thing to help re-entry is to give yourself time and grace to transition back. Having returned from maternity leave 2 weeks before the world shut down the first time, I found re-entry after several months WFH to be a similar experience. It will take 2-4 weeks to get back into your routines, to get used to your commute again, to figure out the right rhythm of your day and work out how to manage all the things that have changed while you were away. Recognise that those early weeks will be exhausting (office days remained a lot more tiring than home days, even after I got used to them), they will be more stressful than you are used to, and you will be a bit more irritable and short-tempered. It will pass; just try not to take out your stress on others, and be a bit patient if someone takes their stress out on you.

    The other lesson, which is one I haven’t yet mastered, is: get organised! Lay out your outfit and make your lunch the night before, get onto a routine with your laundry, and make sure your car has petrol in it/your public transport pass has credit.

    1. Jonquil*

      I should have said: my employer supported a hybrid arrangement, so most of us were in the office 3 days and from home 2. I think this is pretty common in big companies.

  116. Last of the True Believers*

    Been back 3 days a week since late May. Many good tips already shared here, but the ones that I found very useful:
    1. I started getting “dressed” a few days before returning to office. Doing hair/makeup, wearing more “office appropriate” clothing, etc. so I could get used to that again.
    2. 2000% try your clothes on ahead of time! Something strange happened to all of my clothes during the “at home times” — they all shrunk!
    3. It is kind of exhausting to “people” again. Get to bed a little earlier, etc.
    4. If you have ownership of your schedule, try to keep your early mornings free until you’ve gotten back into commute-groove.
    5. Maybe pack lunch. If your “before times” routine was to go out to lunch, that might not feel so safe right now. YMMV.
    6. Expect to lose a little productivity at first due to all of the chit chat and catching up and just getting used to how different it feels to wear real pants and work-appropriate undergarments!

    1. JB*

      Shrinking clothes…ah, yes. True for so many of us. And even more shockingly, the dryer was not the appliance at fault. It was the fridge!

  117. JB*

    We started on a staggered schedule with two days a week each. I agree with a lot of the previous advice about clothes, commuting, work habits, etc.

    Be prepared for other changes. Our buildings cafeteria has not reopened and not all the nearby lunch places survived. Construction in the last 18 months has literally changes some streets and traffic patterns.

    My area is open plan, and everyone has to relearn using that type of space. Things like that you can’t take calls on speaker phone or call across the room to a friend. Far more meetings from individual desks. There’s a new person sitting about 8’ away who does wear a headset but talks SO LOUD.

    Our employer is even more flexible with schedules. They do want a set plan but individuals can negotiate with their manager shifts that fall between 7am-6pm. One worked out coming onsite 3 days instead of two but leaving a 3:00 for school pickup and then working a final 90 minutes from home.

  118. Well...*

    When I was WFH, I felt like going into work every day would be exhausting when it started up again, and I wondered how I would do it. We had the option of going back in, and I tried a few times, and it was exhausting to remember everything I needed, figure out a way to get food with a lot of on campus stuff closed (and in a new workplace… I moved to a new job and new country during the pandemic).

    My internet went out in my apartment and I had to go in for several consecutive days, and I’ve got to say, those days were great! After I got over the hump of getting used to the routine, I am SO much more productive (being at works feels like rolling downhill all day, rather than WFH which feels like constantly climbing UP the hill, forcing myself to work when I don’t feel like it, etc etc). I get up excited and look forward to my walk into work. I’m an extrovert but my workplace is mostly empty, so I’m not even getting that talking to people bump in energy I’ve been missing.

    So I would say if there’s an activation energy associated with moving to a new routine, go in several days in a row. Then it will start to feel like going into work isn’t a slog, but part of your routine.

  119. jiminy_cricket*

    My favorite thing I’ve done was go through all my work clothes, get rid of what no longer works for me, and replace what needs to be replaced. Then I made myself a work capsule of six outfits that I rotate weekly. Mornings are hard for me and having a “uniform” to reach for without thought has been a lifesaver!

  120. Mim*

    I am back in the office on a hybrid schedule. Things that have helped my transition so far:

    2. cleaning/organizing/rearranging my physical work space at the office. Obviously, stuff like cleaning up old out of date things (calendars, paperwork), dusting, etc. But also thinking about ways in which my work habits have changed/evolved over the past 18 months, and arranging my space at the office to reflect that. It doesn’t have to be anything big, but even something like lighting or what kind of keyboard you are using or something. Basically, a chance to rethink what you really need in a workspace, since so many of us discovered a lot by having to reinvent that at home.
    3. Adjust productivity expectations, if you have the freedom to do so. I think many of us were more productive at home because there are fewer distractions or chances for spontaneous chats that go off topic and add up to a lot of “lost” time throughout the day. I don’t necessarily think those things are bad (depends a lot on where you work, expectations, and whether you like your co-workers), but it was an adjustment for me. All of a sudden the day is over, and I got a lot less done than I would have if I were at home.
    4. If you have been working different hours than pre-covid, it might be worth seeing if you can continue that to some extent while back on-site. I start and end my day earlier than before, and continuing to do that when at the office means that I get to keep a perk I discovered while working from home. (That I enjoy having a large chunk of afternoon free to do non-work activities.) It would be a lot harder of a landing for me if I had to both go back on-site and have my schedule changed back to something I didn’t enjoy as much. Especially as we are starting to feel the lateness of late summer into fall, and losing daylight later in the day.
    5. If you are a person who took advantage of work breaks, “lunch”, etc. to do dishes, laundry, and other household chores, brace for that not happening anymore. The effect of losing home time due to a commute + not being able to spend your “breaks” doing stuff like that means that it could feel pretty bad when you get home after a long day and long commute and still have to fold the laundry and put the sheets back on the bed before you can shovel in some dinner, zone out, go to bed, and start it all over again the next day. Like, there might not be a way to avoid it, but at least it hurts a bit less if you expect it, and maybe adjust your routines to get more done over the weekend if you’ve allowed some chores to migrate to the work week over the past 1.5 years.

    1. Mim*

      Remembered another thing. I have literally started making to-do/pack lists and laying out my clothes the night before like some kid before the first day of school. Because being out of that routine means that I will forget things. The mornings I have to go in are much easier if I don’t have to actually think about what I’m going to wear and whether I’ve forgotten anything I need. I just put on what I picked out the night before, and go through my checklist. (And do not forget to pack your noise cancelling headphones! And work sweater. Unless your work sweater has been sitting on the back of your chair since March 2020. Then you’re all set, though it might need a good wash and reshaping…)

  121. Alana*

    My advice – since I love my home and miss the comfort of working from home – is to bring things to your office that remind you of home: photos, decorations, etc. If you’re allowed to listen to music, play some music that reminds you of home. You’ll feel a lot more comfortable, if you’re anything like a “feelings” person like I am.

  122. SaffyTaffy*

    Like a lot of people have already said, I found doing a hybrid for the first couple of months to be helpful. But later I was also able to negotiate a temporary 4-day work week, and that was hugely helpful. For me it was 4 10-hour days, but it could have involved using PTO every Monday for a month or just working fewer hours.
    It just gave me more of a buffer, and helped me get used to “being at work all the time.”

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