“The thought of going back to the office is stressing me out, even if it’s not every day. How can I manage this?”

The past year’s events had an enormous impact on all aspects of our lives. Many people adjusted so successfully that they’re dreading the prospect of further uncertainty and change.

People tell me that the workplace has changed for good, and things won’t go back 100% to what they were. So I say we should make the most of the lessons we learnt this year.

Be flexible

I would like senior managers to recognise that this will be a strange time for everyone and to adopt a flexible, more personal approach to the world of work. It’s important that people feel supported by their employers and colleagues.

During my years in the industry, I’ve seen many talented women leave through inflexibility around working hours and location, and other outdated restrictions.

Many are now comfortable with remote working, after this extended trial period. And employers who were adamant that it wouldn’t work have seen that it does, and with benefits.

The benefits of being together

From what we hear, people are missing the times when they work collaboratively, in project teams, in brainstorms and creative sessions. No-one’s rushing to commute into work so they can sit and stare at a screen all day.

You will get to reconnect with the colleagues you like and may feel closer to them after working through this together. I certainly know far more about my team’s kids, pets and hobbies than I did before!

Junior people on the team learn from working alongside their colleagues, so the last year was particularly tough on them. Offering to mentor them, or letting them shadow you, even from a social distance, will help them make progress and motivate you both.

Any concerns about your ability to do the job are probably unfounded. We can feel a bit lost after a fortnight on holiday, after all. I remember being incredibly nervous returning from maternity leave, but I was soon back up and running again.

Control the commute

Rush hour was always unpleasant, and no one will miss the rigid Monday to Friday, 9-5. Many companies are planning a phased return, so we can trial it, see what works best and suggest changes.

Think about where and when you’re most productive. A day in the office brainstorming with the team is very productive, but you can plough through emails anywhere.

If you’re working in a global team or across time zones, adjust your working day. We put in long days in this industry, so phasing them to suit us is good.

Be prepared

You may find it reassuring to spend some time getting to grips with what’s coming. So you feel less vulnerable – more prepared.

Whether you work in an office, in a warehouse or on the shop floor, things will be different when you go back, at least initially. If that concerns you, find out as much as you can in advance. What restrictions or regulations will be in place and how will they affect you? This will allow you to raise any concerns with your HR team or line manager, while there is time for them to be taken into consideration.

Get back into routine before you need to. Set your alarm a little earlier each day until you’re where you should be. If you’ll have long days on your feet, get active now to prepare your feet and your footwear!

Arrange the school run or childcare, building in some flexibility while new routines are established.

Many of us have bought pets during lockdown, so take time to get them used to you coming and going. Make any arrangements needed to look after them.

Be good to yourself

Looking after ourselves, especially in challenging times, can help to dispel feelings of stress or anxiety.

Get outside and be active every day, even if it’s just a 10-minute walk. Eat a healthy, balanced diet and get plenty of sleep.

Try out some mindfulness techniques, calming apps or podcasts that can help you unwind and distract your mind.

Don’t suffer in silence

If you continue to feel anxious or that you can’t cope, do seek help from your GP, or a charity like the Samaritans and The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), which have phonelines for people needing urgent support.

First published in Cosmetics Business

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