Going back to the office? Here’s how to adjust after many years spent working remotely

It’s coming up to three long years since Covid hit. But while the pandemic is largely behind us, its dramatic effect on how we work hasn’t gone away. In our 2023 Creative Boom readers survey, only 29.2% of you say you’ve gone back to the studio full-time, with 26.2% doing so part-time and 30% continuing to work entirely remotely.

And that’s not surprising. Many of us have been scarred by the pandemic, and being in another room with others can feel quite daunting. Plus, there’s a whole fresh generation of creatives who’ve never done so, having graduated in the lockdown era.

Working from home comes with a whole range of advantages, of course, not least saving the cost and hassle of the commute. But there are some important benefits to visiting the office, too.

The ability to bounce ideas and brainstorm ideas with other creatives, in real-time and in real physical space, cannot be underestimated; most of the best ideas you’ll have in your career will probably happen this way. Enjoying social time again with people who share your values, experiences and outlook is equally good for the soul.

There’s huge value, too, in attending events after work with colleagues. And more fundamentally, being able to separate work from home life and properly switch off is vital to our mental and physical well-being.

But maybe you get all that but are still trepidacious about stepping back into the workplace or, if you’re freelance, returning to a coworking space. To help you, we canvassed the Creative Boom community and asked for their advice on returning to the studio. We share some of their top tips below, and you can see the full discussion here.

1. Take things slowly

Our first piece of advice is not to rush into anything. It may be disconcerting if you haven’t worked in a shared space for a while. So if things seem tricky at first, don’t panic or beat yourself up, but allow yourself the freedom to go at your own pace.

As Greg Findley, founder of Mantra advises: “Take things day by day, and be kind to yourself and colleagues. Everyone’s had a different experience working remotely through the pandemic and likely has mixed emotions about returning. Remind yourself of the positives of physical separation or work and home life.”

Designer Ross Middleham offers a similar take. “Acknowledge that it may feel unsettling and be kind to yourself,” he says. “Remember, there are benefits to both ways of working. Accept that your days won’t feel the same at home; you may not feel as productive. But that’s okay. It’s a different kind of productive.”

graphic designers Kathryn adds some practical advice. “It’s amazing how distracted I was by conversations around me, so noise-cancelling headphones were a must when I didn’t feel like being social,” she recalls. “Plus, sorting a bag the night before helps. Think about the bits you rely on daily: mouse, pens, pencils, sketchbook, to-do list, laptop, charger.”

2. Bring some home comforts

Another way to ease the transition from home to a workplace is to take some comforting elements from the latter to the former. “If you’re at a permanent desk rather than a hot desk, make it like a mini home-from-home,” advise the team at Freelance Heroes. “Bring some plants, some books to enjoy on your break, and perhaps a vision board in the background. Make your desk a pleasure to work at.”

Amanda from Workshop Media did just that on her return to the workplace. “I invested in a lovely comfy blanket to sit on in my office chair, which is also useful for days like today when it’s freezing,” she says. “I have the same one at home at my desk, and it just helps me stay a little bit comfier.”

For Bryn Jones, senior project manager at Awarded, “Coming back into an office that feels a bit unloved and cold was difficult after the cosiness of being at home. Our team found that getting a load of plants hanging from the ceiling and on people’s desks helped bring some life to the space. Especially on days when not many other people are in the office.”

3. Time it right

Something else that can help smooth your return to the studio is getting the timing right. “It can be tempting to go in on the busiest days to catch up with everyone, but I’d recommend a Monday or a Friday to ease yourself back in,” says Maisie Benson, design director at JKR. “Getting into the routine without being too overwhelming initially can be good.”

“We recently thought about this too,” says the team at creative agency Monopo. “So we set up a poll on Slack where everybody can select which day they will work remotely the following week. No need to ask, no message to send. It makes it more practical, easy and simple, and hopefully less scary.”

The transition can be tough. But for me, making an effort to travel to the office and show your face makes for a nice change of scenery and resets the cabin fever.

4. Relish the benefits

Returning to the workplace isn’t really about physical surroundings; it’s primarily about reconnecting with people. So make an effort to do so, recommends copywriter Sarah Taylor-Forbes. “Line up a couple of face-to-face meetings so it feels valuable,” she urges. “Also, treat yourself to a nice coffee or lunch; get out for a walk at lunchtime.”

Author and artist Anna B Sexton offers similar advice. “Keep moving,” she says. “Get up, talk to colleagues. Go for walks to refresh your head space. And drink lots of water (or things with water in) to keep hydrated; lots of offices are much drier than our homes.”

Above all, focus on the good things about being in the workplace. “I recently went back to the office for a few days a week and found it helpful to lean into the positive aspects,” says interaction designer Keith Tormey. “For me, it’s the walking and cycling, listening to a good podcast, face-to-face interactions with people, and getting out for lunch occasionally. Personally, I love it!”

5. Vary your route

One of the more depressing things about working in an office is the boring routine of the same commute, day in, day out. But as the artist, performer and producer Laura Frances Martin points out, it needn’t be that way. She suggests that if you can, you “choose a new route to work at least twice a week, to get a new home-work transition narrative going on. It can simply be a slight variation in your usual route for a change of habit. “

6. Advice for Freelancers

The advice we’ve heard so far applies even if you’re freelance. In which case, designer and brand strategist Sophie O’Connor says: “Find some good coworking spaces where you can work hybrid, on your own terms. I’ve worked for myself for six years now and find either being home full-time or always in an office doesn’t work for many reasons. The odd after-work jolly is good for the soul, too.”

Illustrator Vicky Hughes suggests you: “Try a few networking/coworking spaces until you find a group you feel at home with. And then just go there when you actually want to, rather than pressuring yourself. Mine is Duke Studios in Leeds. If there are non-work social events you can join in with, too, that’s a big bonus.”

7. Don’t Panic!

We’re not suggesting that returning to the workplace won’t be stressful after a long time away. But as the team at Hudson Fuggle note, these feelings probably won’t last long.

“Don’t overthink it!” they say. “We’ve been back at the studio for a while, so we promise you’ll soon forget what you were worried about. Easing into the day with a team breakfast where no work chat is allowed – we love TV recommendations – can help. It’s what you miss working from home, after all.”

“The transition can be tough,” adds designer Kultar Singh Ruprai. “But for me, making an effort to travel to the office and show your face makes for a nice change of scenery and resets the cabin fever.”

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