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Going back to the office? Here’s how to ease the transition

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A few handy considerations to make your return smooth, easy, and fun

Go back into the office? Maybe not. After a year-plus of working from home — turning our apartments and houses into offices, uprooting our living rooms, buying standing desks we don’t love to look at— many white collar professionals, when presented with the requirement to return to a physical workspace, have decided to look for another nice remote job instead.

Working remote feels like the best of both worlds: there’s no commute or scratchy dress pants, lunch choices are infinite, and shoes don’t need to be worn. (It’s worth mentioning here — or somewhere — that Speechify is a fully remote team that’s hiring. Check out our jobs page.). Who wants to go to the office?

Some people. And there are reasons for that. Separating your work situation from your life situation can be healthy. It’s helpful to not work in bed. A requirement to be in the office five days a week might not be in the cards for everyone, but having to occasionally work somewhere that isn’t a bedroom or a little home nook isn’t a bad thing! A regular office schedule — say, going in a couple times a week — may be the best of both worlds.

Since it’s been a while, here are a few things to keep in mind as we re-acclimatize ourselves to a return — occasional, regular or otherwise — to the office.

Safety first

The New York Times has reported that the offices we’re coming back to may look very different from the ones that we left. Individual work spaces — personal desks, offices and cubes — are already getting replaced in many offices by modular, movable furniture. Ditching traditional work stations for mobile options allows offices can better adapt to another pandemic — or whatever’s going on with the Delta variant now — without having to shut down completely, like last year.

What this means is a new office geography: common areas that are likely bigger than ones from the before times, with aspirational tech office layouts — bright spaces with computer couches, large central kitchens and tricked-out meeting rooms — trickling down from tech to just about everywhere.

These offices may look slicker than where you parked yourself in March of last year, but it’s less about looks than employers hybridizing their workspaces into something pandemic-friendly. Spaced-out workspaces are more compliant in the case of something bad happening again, and seem like the new path in a semi-pandemic, semi-not new way of life.

The main selling point is to a physical office is that having employees physically working together spurs them into communication and creativity. Under a shared roof, workers will be more creative, come up with solutions, bond, and go over the finer points of the Andersen account in a way that they might not on Slack or through Zoom.

Or so the thinking goes. While open offices aren’t necessarily the most creative places to work, they do get folks to mingle and chat, which is necessary to some companies’ business model.

Either way, the push to stay in the office is a little easier to take if everyone’s safe. The CDC’s website is a good resource for questions you might have about office safety.

Know what’s expected

One of the nicer things about working from home is that by completely destroying the physical barriers between work and life — you’re editing spreadsheets in bed! Your kid just walked into the Zoom! — many employees have created real temporal separation between their careers and the rest of their life. That is, when it’s 6 PM — or 7, or 8 — work is done, and it’s time to go on a bike ride, watch “The Great British Bakeoff,” or just reopen your laptop, but for fun.

It’s a new sort of vigilance that was a little harder to come by at the office before the pandemic. It’s work to not feel like you’re working all of the time, but there’s hope that the work-life balance so many of us built up during the pandemic will maintain itself when we return to the office.

A day at the office can turn into a late night a little more easily than a remote workday can, especially if the employees’ trips to the office are occasional, or come a couple times a week. Why wouldn’t an employer want to make the most of a worker’s rare trip into the office? Of course, most employees have a good idea of their workload, and when their busy seasons are, and how hectic they get.

Building a career often means an occasional overstep of work into life. As long as the work-life boundaries many of us erected for our own personal sanity stay up as we go into the office, things should be fine. Sometimes it’s all hands on deck. But only some days at the office should stretch into the night. (Unless, of course, that’s what you’re into.)

Enjoy it

After a year and a half spent at home, going into the office feels fresh. The view from your cube, the free sparkling water, the good granola bars on Wednesdays. And there’s also the positive feeling you get when you get dressed and go into the city, have something to do and join the rest of the world in the collective activity known as going to work.

Basically, going in has to be special. Dressing up is one way. After a year spent in track pants or sweats, dressier clothing is more appealing. Now’s the perfect time to upgrade or overhaul a wardrobe. Being regularly out of the house in an environment where how you look matters is a chance to try a new style, or veer your work wardrobe closer to something you’d wear on your own time. Maybe that means a nice-fitting suit, or that rare band tee you’ve been eyeing on eBay.

Packing a nice, healthy lunch is a good way to make a workday count, as is grabbing Popeye’s. And why not? You’re only in the office a couple days a week. Going to get the good coffee instead of the close coffee is another.

Making sure you do something fun after work — seeing a movie, or just a stroll in the park — can heighten the day. One thing that’s helped me is, shameless plug, Speechify’s text reader. I drop a story I’ve been meaning to read but don’t have time to check out into the reader, and listen to it on the train, and catch up. Jamming this old New Yorker story about Jewel Thieves felt like tuning into my own radio station or podcast, except with no ads for mattresses.

All are small, meaningful ways to elevate a work day into a good one, small habits that veer a trip to the office into something much more enjoyable than it was over a year ago. Those of us working remote who don’t have to come in every day are lucky. Mostly because going into the office can be a fun little thing.

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