Last night, after the thrills of the final bank holiday of the year, I said goodnight to my flatmates and went to bed before 10pm for possibly the first time this year. My outfit for the next day was laid out on my chair, my lunch neatly packed in a Tupperware and my shoes waited by the door. Was I preparing for my first day of secondary school, you may be asking yourself? Maybe a new job, or perhaps even just an important presentation? No, I have been at my job for almost a year. The only difference is I was heading back to the office for the first time since November.
Until this morning, I was in the now not-so-unique position of having worked at a company for almost a year and being able to count the number of colleagues I’ve met in person on one-and-a-half hands. Having graduated in 2020, this version of working life is all I’ve known. When my cohort envisaged entering the world of work after university, it was much more a dream of stylish outfits and nervous drinks with colleagues than 10 months of working in pyjamas at the kitchen table. For the class of 2020 and 2021, the anxiety of entering an office after a year of remote working where everyone else knows each other but no one knows you is overwhelming. It’s like starting a new job — except no one feels sorry for you.
Over the last few months, with more and more people jabbed and employers hardening the party line on office working, most of us have been making this transition. Even for those office veterans who have been WFH on a daily basis for 20-plus years, fear about an abrupt change of lifestyle can creep in. Will I get blisters wearing my “proper” shoes again? How on earth did I used to make small talk for eight hours a day? Have I actually lost my office pass? (Spoiler alert: I have).
There are plenty of reasons why returning to the office might be rattling you. For one thing, transitions naturally spike our anxiety. No matter how accustomed to the office you are, home is almost certainly further within your comfort zone.
There is also the fear of Covid itself, simmering under the surface and providing a lovely ever-present uneasiness. For those spring chickens in the office who have only just been double-jabbed or haven’t made the cut yet, this nervousness is heightened.
It can often feel like there is a pressure to feel only excitement about “getting back to normal”. There is certainly lots to feel excited about — meeting new people, feeling like part of a team again, finally getting your step count above 1,000. But it’s important to remember that anxiety about this change doesn’t mean that you’re fragile or a failure; extend yourself a little kindness.
Have you got back-to-the-office anxiety? Let us know in the comments below.