As lockdown restrictions continue to ease, office workers across the country are asking the same question: what’s next?
We’ve proved we can work remotely – and do it well – but many of us have also realised how much we miss face-to-face interactions and getting out the house each day. It’s with mixed emotions then, that you may have seen news that more than a million UK workers won’t return to the office full-time.
The BBC questioned the country’s 50 biggest employers and found the majority intend to embrace a mix of home and office working, with staff encouraged to work from home two to three days a week. Some firms have closed their offices permanently, or intend to do so when their lease expires.
It’s a huge lifestyle change for office workers to comprehend, especially as many of us expected to be back within a few weeks when we packed up our desks last March.
Feeling a little uneasy? Here’s how to prepare for the long-term transition.
Get in the right headspace
If you’re feeling worried about the shift from temporary to permanent remote working, Harriet Minter, author of WFH – How To Build A Career You Love When You’re Not In The Office, says it’s important to remember one vital fact: “WFH is not the same as WFH during a pandemic – your experience of the past year will not be the same as WFH in the future.”
“Think about what it is you’re most worried about missing,” she tells HuffPost UK. “If it’s training or development, talk to your boss about how you can bring those into a WFH environment.
“If you’re worried about being on your own, look for shared workspaces and suggest to your boss that the company might want to pay for a membership. Most companies will want to make this work for you, so do tell them what your fears are but also help them find the solution.”
If shared workspaces aren’t an option, focus on the fact lockdown is easing: very soon, you’ll be able to sit down with your laptop inside a cafe for a change of scenery. Bliss.
You’ve got the idea, now get the gear
If remote work is going to become permanent, now’s the time to finally source a comfortable work station. A folding desk that can be popped behind the sofa after work can be a good option if you don’t have room for a designated office space. Alternatively, there are lots WFH hacks to make your set-up comfortable without spending money – a carefully placed pillow can make all the difference.
And remember, if you’re feeling achey after a day WFH, the best thing you can do is move. Physios told HuffPost most aches and pains are due to lack of movement, rather than lack of equipment, so recommit to those lunchtime walks and remember to get up and move during the day.
Reset your boundaries
If WFH is here to stay, it’s time to reset and create sustainable, long-term habits conducive to good wellbeing, as well as productivity. The classic mistake most of us make when we work from home is failing to put strong boundaries around work and life, says Minter. Without a routine, these boundaries begin to blur.
“Think about what your working routine is: perhaps you start work at the same time each day, work from the same place or just change your outfit from ‘home’ clothes to ‘work clothes’ – find symbolic things that signal the start and end of the day,” she says. “One of my friends has a standing arrangement to meet her neighbour for a dog walk at 5pm each day – it means they both stop working at that time and creates a physical space from work.”
Another common mistake when people get their heads down and get on with work, only to later worry their career has stalled. To avoid this, you need to be proactive about your career to ensure you’re aware of upcoming projects and opportunities. “The best way to do this is simply to build time into your diary each week for a bit of internal networking,” says Minter.
“Think about who you could arrange to have a quick catch-up with. You could send someone an email congratulating them on a project, or connect one of your colleagues with someone who might be able to help their career – it’s good karma! Spending a bit of time each week building your network internally will ensure your name is on the tip of everyone’s tongue, no matter where you are.”
Make a long-term plan
Planning for the future has felt impossible this past year, but we’re finally starting to see signs of normality returning. It’s time to look ahead, says Minter, and thinking about where you want to be in five years time – whether or not you’re working from home – is a good place to start. Once you’ve mapped out a dream scenario, growing your network can help make it come true.
“The good news is it’s easier to do this remotely than it is in person,” says Minter. She advises thinking of online networking in three categories: paid, earned and owned.
Paid networking might include online courses, memberships or coaching that connects you with other likeminded people on a similar journey. “Some of these can be really beneficial and give you a great network for a small investment – just make sure you do your research and don’t spend on something just because it looks all shiny,” says Minter.
Earned networking is about the network you can build through online platforms such as social media – tailor your social media feed so it’s focusing on the areas you want to grow in your career, look out for people talking about the topics you’re interested in and join them in conversation. “It’s called ‘earned’ because you do have to earn it – be prepared to put the work in, but if you do you could find you become the next go-to voice in your area,” says Minter.
And finally “owned” – think about how your could create a network yourself. “This might be through starting a newsletter, creating an online events series or just bringing together a WhatsApp group,” says Minter. “Becoming the face of a network is a very valuable way to increase your profile, build your contacts and give help others in their career too.”