The past year has forced us all to re-evaluate our work lives, our home lives, and our place in the world. We have had to examine our value systems and those of our employers with the harshest of microscopes. Some have found that the two are no longer in alignment. Such forced introspection has culminated in two results: some have chosen to prioritize their mental and physical well-being, while some have let the pandemic grab hold of the darkness. We are now cautiously transitioning back to our pre-pandemic work lives. Employee work habits and habitats have shifted and changed. Office culture and employee behavior inevitably will not be the same as the pre-pandemic era.
The following are mental and physical lessons learned that will aid in dampening and smoothing the shift back to the office:
Create your physical workspace: The past year has been a baptism by fire for many. Most did not have ideal home workspaces. Many had to create makeshift offices that allowed for the hustle and bustle of childcare, online learning, family life, and work life to co-exist under the same roof. Employees realized that that they had to create a functioning workspace amidst the chaos of everyday living. These new work areas allowed for employees, through trial and error, to figure out what workspace accommodations enhanced their productivity. As we get back to the office, it is important to try to replicate (as much as possible) the things that did work, e.g. ergonomic chairs, office plants, pictures, etc.
Take breaks: Working from home allowed for employees to be creative with breaktime. People could leave their work area and take a 10-minute walk or go outside for fresh air. Stepping away from the computer screen not only rests the eyes, but it re-energizes the brain too. In the pre-pandemic world, many employees never left their desks. This led to high blood pressure, eye strain, mindless overeating, and general fatigue. As we shift back to the office, there are many mental and physical health benefits to creating self-imposed breaks. Make sure to make these breaks productive for your overall health.
Eat and drink mindfully: When returning to the office, why not make healthy food consumption a priority? Working in an office promotes a culture of living off fast food and caffeine as part of one’s daily office survival. Working from home, however, allowed employees to be more intentional in what food and drink was consumed. People became more creative with their breakfasts, lunches, and snacks and experimented with healthy alternatives. Pre-plan meals and bring them to work. Cut back on that third or fourth cup of coffee and replace it with water. Your waistline and your wallet will reap the benefits.
Sanitize your workstation: If we were lax in cleanliness before the pandemic, most of us are not now. We have always known that our desks are one of the dirtiest places in any office. We work and eat there. Many do not take the time to properly clean their keyboards, phones, computer screens, and desks. Our workspace is a breeding ground for illness. At home, however, most choose not to inhabit such a filthy space. We take care to ensure that we keep a clean and tidy home. Transitioning back to the office is the perfect opportunity to protect your own health and those of your fellow employees. Keep a sanitized workstation for everyone’s long-term benefit.
Set clear boundaries: The combination of working in an office and technology allowed for employees to be available 24/7. Much to the detriment of mental and physical health, work/life balance was a joke. Working from home made employees re-evaluate their choices. Zoom calls have time limits. Once these virtual meetings were over, most unplugged. A clear definition of boundaries allowed for better time management and work/life balance decisions. These lessons need to be carried back to the office.
The transition back to the office does not need to be a daunting experience. It is imperative to take these hard-learned lessons and incorporate them into our soon-to-be post-pandemic lives. If this last year has taught us anything, it is that health is truly wealth.