Making the transition back to the office — tips from a mental health expert
With many of us used to remote work after almost two years at home, making the transition back to the office may not be easy on our mental health. That’s why we talked to Veronica Sears, disability case manager at Manitoba Blue Cross, to learn more about easing back in.
The benefits of in-person work
There’s no question that remote work has its mental health benefits. Work-life balance, comfort and lack of commute are just some. But in-person work isn’t without its perks, Sears says.
“An in-person work environment can decrease some of the isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, from having face-to-face interaction with clients and colleagues,” she says. “Building and maintaining relationships – including workplace relationships – has a strong effect on your mental health.”
Daily in-person work can also help with daily routine building, something that was lacking for many of us who have worked from home, she says.
In some respects, in-person work can actually increase work-life balance, Sears says. “Once you leave the office for the day, you can turn your focus solely to your personal and family life, and lessen the possibility of those lines being blurred when having access to your work 24/7.”
But remote work has also helped some of us spend more time with our families. Keeping a solid work-life balance upon return to in-person work is all about preparation and building a routine, Sears says.
“These give you the benefit of knowing what is ahead of you, giving you some control and allowing you to organize your time to maximize the family/personal activities you enjoy,” she says. “When you are transitioning back to in-person work, you can prepare by planning for things such as work travel and childcare. Has your transportation style or amount of time required for commuting changed since the pandemic began? Do you have childcare lined up? You could plan how long it will take to get to and from the office and what type of transportation works best for you to get there. Having childcare arrangements organized early can decrease your worries involving your children’s care and routine.
“As an example, if you have enjoyed more time with your family in the mornings due to remote working, simple routines such as preparing the family’s lunches and clothing choices the night before work can still give you the time to enjoy breakfast as a family and continue childcare drop offs before heading into the office.”
Returning to our daily commutes may not be easy, but trying to make the best of it can help improve your mood, Sears says. “Listening to a favourite podcast or an audiobook you’ve been wanting to start, turning up a favourite song, picking up that much-needed coffee on your way to work – all these things can help prevent your commute from getting you down,” she says.
Take your breaks
“Taking your breaks is extremely important both in a remote and in-person work environment for your mental health,” Sears says. “In-person work may assist people in taking breaks as these actions can be triggered by our surrounding colleagues and the daily in-office routine.”
Seeing your colleagues get up and get away from their work can encourage you to take your own break, she says. “Having lunch with a colleague is a great way to encourage a regular eating routine and maintain those work relationships.”
Using your break to exercise – even if it’s just a short walk – can also help improve mental health, Sears says.
“If the return to work becomes overwhelming, I would say, first and foremost, to practice self-compassion and don’t have too high expectations of yourself,” she says. “No one is going to transition perfectly to a new routine on day one, so if there are some roadblocks and difficulties on the way to adjusting to this new routine, that’s okay.”
If you’re overwhelmed, it’s also important to talk to someone, Sears says.
"Talking about your fears and difficulties can be very helpful when experiencing mental distress and that could be with a trusted friend or professional such as one of the Manitoba Blue Cross EAP counsellors.”
Counselling support from Manitoba Blue Cross
If you're experiencing mental health concerns or are struggling with the return to in-office work, reach out for help. Manitoba Blue Cross’s counselling services are available to all Manitobans, regardless of whether or not you have coverage with Manitoba Blue Cross. Find the available support that's right for you here.
Unsure of your coverage with Manitoba Blue Cross? Confirm your eligibility in your mybluecross® account.