After more than two years of many people working from home, companies have begun the inevitable move of bringing employees back to the office, a shift referred to in the press as “the great return.”
How workers feel about this change, though, is a little unclear. While a 2021 The Future Forum survey of more than 10,000 found that nearly 75 percent wanted to return to the office three to five days a week, other research, including one recent Pew survey, suggests that as many as 78 percent would like to continue their work-from-home lifestyles.
Regardless of your personal position on “the great return” (and what your return will look like), one thing is for sure: It will be a significant transition that brings on all sorts of feelings.
“Some people are eager to return back to the office and miss the social aspects and structure of it, while others are more anxious and worried about the transition,” explains psychologist Emily Guarnotta, Psy.D., blogger at The Mindful Mommy. “After two years, many people have adjusted to the ‘new normal’ and now must establish a completely new routine.”
Of course, there are plenty of reasons why one might feel hesitant or anxious about returning back to the office. “For some people, returning back to the office brings on many additional physical demands, including having to commute again, manage childcare, and plan for extra time to get ready in the morning,” Guarnotta says. “Returning to the office is also emotionally stressful for some people, as it brings with it social contact that’s been significantly minimized in two years of a pandemic.”
This shake-up in routine can also lead to a slew of health changes. While working from home may have afforded you the opportunity to settle into a consistent exercise and cooking routine, limitations brought on by your commute, time spent in the office, or other added responsibilities outside the home may threaten your consistency (and stress levels).
To help you adjust, we reached out to experts to get their best tips for staying healthy and on track with your goals as you return to the office.
1. Start the transition at least one week before Returning
Adjusting back to your office-life routine can take time, which is why Guarnotta recommends not waiting until the last minute to start the process. In fact, she suggests giving yourself a minimum of a week to settle back into your routine. “This includes going to bed and waking up at the new time, wearing professional clothing from the comfort of your home so you get used to the feel, and taking your lunch and coffee breaks at the time you will when you’re back in the office,” she says. “This will help you gradually transition back.”
2. Build up office time gradually
If your employer allows, explore going back into the office just a couple of days a week rather than diving right back into a full five days a week, suggests naturopathic doctor and clinical nutritionist David Friedman, N.D., D.C. “This can help reduce the stress from a sudden environmental shift,” he says.
3. Create a Positive morning routine
Prioritizing some small act of self-care in your morning routine can go a long way in setting a positive tone for days back in the office. “Whether it’s simply sipping your morning coffee while journaling some thoughts, enjoying a morning tea after a workout, or stretching in bed before putting on your favorite uplifting podcast or music to get ready for the day, it can help set your day on the right trajectory,” says Chicago-based corporate wellness trainer and yoga instructor Stephanie Mansour.
4. Resist the temptation to work through lunch
When working from home, you may feel more able to step away from your desk for lunch than when you’re in the office and have colleagues calling your name or a manager who sits nearby. Still, it’s important to schedule time during days in the office to eat lunch in an environment where you won’t be interrupted, such as your work kitchen. “Taking time to eat lunch is critical for your mental health and your digestion,” says functional nutritional therapy practitioner Tansy Rodgers, F.N.T.P. Answering stress-inducing emails while trying to scarf down a meal is a recipe for poor productivity, indigestion, brain fog, and more.
5. Pack a well-balanced lunch and a few snacks
If being at the office means being surrounded by restaurants and fast-food joints, Rodgers suggests packing a well-balanced lunch of protein, healthy fats, veggies, and complex carbs to keep your nutrition solid and your blood sugar levels stable. “When your blood sugar drops, your energy, focus, clarity, and mood drop, as well,” she notes. (Here are a handful of lunches nutritionists pack for busy days, if you need inspiration.)
6. Bring WFH Wins Back To The office with you
If you developed certain routines at home that really worked for you (such as intermittent fasting in the morning or taking a walk break at a certain time of the day), try to maintain these habits as you transition back into office life, suggests Lianna Neilsen, a London-based certified integrative nutrition and health coach. Take inventory of what you liked most about your WFH approach and see if there’s a way to make the wins work back in the office.
7. List out the benefits of returning to the office
If you’re feeling negative about returning to the office, Guarnotta suggests trying to identify whatever positives you can about the change. “Some positives may include more opportunities to socialize, less time spent on technology thanks to in-person meetings, and a greater sense of structure and routine,” she says. “Reflecting on the positives can help you cope with negative feelings that may arise in the beginning.”
8. Make happy hours once-in-a-while occasions
One thing you might miss about office life: happy hour. And while it’s fun to socialize with colleagues outside of the cubicles, sipping back too many alcoholic beverages could crush your sleep and ultimately make transitioning back to working outside of your home more of a struggle. “Stick to one or two drinks and call it quits three hours before lights out,” suggests Michael Breus, Ph.D., clinical psychologist, and author of The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan: Lose Weight Through Better Sleep.