June 28, 2021
After over a year of working from home, you may be getting pressure from your organization to come back to the office. It’s natural that, when some of the team is remote and some of the team is in the office, people that are not accustomed to hybrid work may feel nervous. You may also be feeling pressure or anxiety about returning to work in the physical office.
I believe that you don’t have to go back to the old ways of working to prove your worth. Work can be done productively and remotely, at least some of the time. Many companies have reported higher levels of employee engagement even as teams went remote almost overnight, with no planning or strategy in place.
So, in the midst of all of these changes and differing opinions, how can you deal with the anxiety and mixed emotions that come with your boss either hinting or saying outright, “It’s time to come back”?
My work (and experience) with anxiety suggests that it’s important to start by naming what you’re feeling, and then to investigate possible sources and solutions. Here are four key questions to answer as you consider the next few months, and beyond:
WHAT IS MY IDEAL WORKDAY?
First, take a step back and get a firm grasp of what’s going well in your work from home life, and why. The easiest way to start, mainly if you’re feeling overwhelmed, is to think less about your big-picture career goals and more about what your days look like. What’s great about your remote day?
Then ask yourself what you cannot stand one more minute doing. For example, I never want to have the plumber ring the doorbell when I’m presenting to an important client on a Zoom call.
Another strategy is to consider the basic structure of your workday. Pacing is crucial — think of it in terms of managing the interactions that tax your energy versus those that recharge you. And consider whether there are bad habits you developed during the pandemic that you can change.
WHAT STRESSES ME OUT?
Next, move on to interrogate your significant stressors and how they might play out working from home vs. heading back to the office. Though these stressors will look different for everyone, role confusion and face time anxiety are two that I hear about frequently in my work.
ROLE CONFUSION: Right now, you probably feel your roles as worker, parent, partner and housekeeper have been unforgivably pushed together. But the truth is, if you’re working from home even some of the time, you probably will pick up more of the daily tasks required to keep a household running. The key is to identify what annoys you versus what’s making you anxious, and then decide whether working from home or at the office can help alleviate both.
FACETIME ANXIETY: Unfortunately, some organizations still equate face time with commitment even after a year of work from home. And for many of us, it’s equally stressful to be digitally present to our colleagues all the time.
If you’re feeling anxious because you’re not back in the office, try to understand the origin of those feelings. Ask yourself: Is my anxiety about my manager’s expectations or my own? Remember that the fear of missing out is natural. Don’t be afraid to dig deep here — it can be challenging, but you’ll learn a lot about what’s causing your anxiety deep down.
HOW DOES MY BOSS DEFINE SUCCESS RIGHT NOW?
Once you’ve done some detective work for yourself, do the same for your manager and organization. Keep in mind that managing a remote team is challenging for most people because it requires more communication, more forethought, more planning and more emotional intelligence. And before this year, many managers had never done it before, and many have still received little training from their organization about how to do it well.
Here’s where you may need to manage your boss a bit, particularly as you learn more about what you need at home and in the office. This will help them feel secure, and it will also help lessen your anxiety because expectations will be clear. People get anxious when they are uncertain. If you’re working remotely and your boss is uncertain about what you’re doing with your time and what your goals are, of course they’re more likely to hover around you.
First, ask yourself what’s important to your boss. Usually, managers want to know two things: where you are and whether you get the work done. They also prefer that your flexible schedule doesn’t create more work for them or the team. So when you present a case for flexibility, assure your manager you will be reachable, you will copiously communicate with your peers or clients to make sure the transition is seamless, and that you’ll get the work done. Then prove it.
If you have a boss who isn’t a good communicator, take the initiative and propose the success metrics yourself. Creating a clarification of goals and better communication allows your manager not to micromanage and will lessen your own anxiety about being remote.
WHAT DO I VALUE?
Once you’ve moved from more focused questions around your ideal workday, your stressors and your manager, you can move on to the bigger picture. How has the pandemic helped you realize what you want from your work life? No matter what your pandemic experience has been, it has shaped you. You are not the same person you were before.
Now is the time to reflect and be a bit selfish. Dive deep and identify feelings now, before you can advocate and negotiate for what you want.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Right now, many of us are nervous about taking the flexibility we need going forward; instead, we’re prepared to work in a style that hampers us.
If this sounds like you, remember to take a step back and think about what you want from your workday. Try to uncover the feelings and anxieties motivating the behavior of colleagues and managers, and what will make them feel more confident in your success. Once you’ve done that, don't be afraid to ask for what you need.
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