As your career path changes, you may shift between working in an office and working at home — either as your own boss or a remote employee. If you’re heading back into office life after a period of setting your own schedule and wearing yoga pants all day, being around people in an office setting can be a major transition.
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Some changes will be obvious — farewell, 11 am workout or putting on TV while doing tedious tasks. But you might not anticipate some aspects of the transition, which can quickly overwhelm you. Here's how to jump back into the world of cubicles and communal coffee machines with ease.
Set New Routines
Maybe you’re the type who hops right into work as soon as you wake up. The amount of time it takes to get yourself together each morning before heading to the office could really surprise you, and you might have forgotten just how much longer getting ready will take, says leadership coach Anu Mandapati, M.Ed., PHR, PCC, founder and CEO of IMPACT Leadership for Women. Make sure you factor in how long your new routine will take and your commute time before your first day of work.
And keep in mind how your time constraints will change: Perhaps you used to spend your lunch hour doing household tasks like laundry or paying bills. Commuting and spending the whole day out of the house will eat up that time, so empowerment coach Diane Passage recommends making a plan on how you'll deal with home-related obligations. "You may have to prioritize tasks or outsource — get help from a cleaning person or errand runner — to fit your new schedule," she says.
Limit New Distractions
Buzzing phones, chatting, snacks everywhere, keyboard and mouse clicks — ugh. Offices are often louder and more chaotic than your own home, where you have more control over your surroundings. Jesse Harrison of Zeus Pre-Settlement Funding, LLC, initially worked from home before going into an office every day. She tried to make her office more similar to her home to ease the adjustment by closing her office door when she needed to buckle down. She also bought a small fridge so she could store healthy snacks for herself.
If you don't have an actual office door you can shut (or a mini fridge), invest in a pair of noise-canceling headphones that you can wear to block out any external sounds that may bother you. And stock up on the nonperishable snacks — nuts, dried fruit, or whatever you eat home.
Even if you’re a total extrovert, if you’re accustomed to working at home by yourself, the social environment of offices can be quite the adjustment. Harrison has a trick for easing you into chitchat: Talk to strangers. "When leaving my house, I would say hello to neighbors. I would park my car a quarter of a mile from the office and on my way to work I would start conversations with people I didn't know yet to get into a social state of mind," she says.
You'll also feel more part of the team by accepting offers to grab lunch that first week and by asking others to join you on afternoon coffee runs. In time, you'll make the transition from newbie to full-fledged member of the group.
Be Honest When You're Busy
Having coworkers pop by your desk all hours of the day to ask questions, talk about work-related issues, or to just chat can easily drag down productivity. And while working at home might have involved texts or instant messages, Harrison says, "In the office, I felt like I had to drop everything and answer them right there. It created a lot of pressure for me."
The best way to handle this? Be up-front, Harrison says. Practice this: “Right now I’m in the middle of something. Can you come back in 15?” Most people will understand and appreciate that you're trying to be as productive as possible. If this strategy is too forward for you, Mandapati suggests hanging a small white board on your cubicle or door that's visible to people walking by and write "Please do not disturb" when you need to focus, indicating your free times underneath.
If you’re in a communal office space that has little privacy, those noise-canceling headphones will be your best friend. Nothings says “leave me alone” like a person intently focusing with headphones in. If you really need some privacy and quiet, head to an empty conference room and close the door, if you have that option.
Be a Team Player
It can be difficult to jump into collaborative mode when you’re used to working on your own. From the start, you should make an effort to connect with and learn about your colleagues so you can ease into the group, Mandapati says. "Learn their communication and teamwork style: Are they direct and to the point? Do they work best alone? What's their preferred mode of communication? Listen to project- and people-related needs in meetings and then start sharing your opinions and ideas," she advises.
Once you feel settled in, ask your supervisor or even your peers for feedback on your performance to help create a two-way open feedback environment, she adds. You might also want to ask about any unwritten rules of the office culture that you should know about. "Authenticity and clear communication win as you're connecting with your new team," she says.
Prioritize Me Time
Being back in an office 40 hours a week can be draining. Try to find balance by making room for downtime before or after work: Walk around your neighborhood before your commute or find a great workout class that you can hit on the way home. At the very least, make sure you don't overload yourself with social engagements during the week so you can fit in time to relax. And be sure to get to bed at a reasonable hour as you settle into your new routine. Change, even good change, is exhausting. Taking care of yourself is an investment in your success.