Thousands of professionals all over the world are getting ready to do something that once seemed impossible: they’re about to return to the office.
For those of you whose memories don’t go back that far, the office wasn’t just a sadly funny TV show, but a destination for people to head to when they wanted to do their “work,” whatever that was.
When offices worked as intended, they were places of great collaboration, camaraderie, and connection.
When they didn’t work, offices could often mean conformity, conflict or chaos—on top of an ever-lengthening commute.
If it’s time for you to return to the office—a traditional office, not the one you’ve built in the closet of your bedroom—don’t just go through the motions.
It’s the perfect time to rethink everything about who you want to be and how you want to be at work.
Truth is, you have more control than you think about the way you’ll work going forward. But in order to avoid becoming a passive traveler, take a minute now and consider these six areas where you can change your life at work.
1. The way you worked at the office before doesn’t need to be the way you work now.
A long time ago when I worked in Manhattan, I stopped each morning at the deli on the ground floor of my office building. There, I’d purchase two diet Cokes, a Wall Street Journal, and an everything bagel with veggie cream cheese.
A few years later, I took a new job. It was in a different building with no deli, so no bagels. So I went without.
Truth is, if I really ached for a bagel, I could have walked a block away and purchased one easily. But my bagel buy had become a habit of convenience; one I never thought twice about until my pattern was disrupted.
As you return to the office, you have the chance to intentionally disrupt patterns that weren’t working for you before.
Here’s a list of things where you may have created a pattern—one that’s ripe for revisiting:
- What time you’re arriving
- How you’re spending your first hour of the day
- How you’re responding to requests
- How you’re prioritizing your time
- How you’re spending time with others
- How you’re spending time on your own
- Who you’re spending time with
- What you’re asking of others
- What you’re asking of yourself
- What you’re eating
- What you’re drinking
- How often you’re moving
- How you’re managing your calendar
- What time you’re leaving
- How you’re using time after you’ve left the office
- What you’re doing as you arrive home
You control three things: everything you think, everything you say, and everything you do. Where will you take back control and change your return to the office in the way that works best for you?
2. The way you’ve been working recently doesn’t need to be the way you work back at the office now.
When work changed dramatically in early 2020, nobody taught us any rules.
So we made them up as best we could.
Zoom meetings, Slack channels, and Miro boards were around long before the pandemic hit, but found fresh uses out of necessity. Companies that had few employees working remotely then scrambled to arm their teams with tech and tools, often within a week.
One client told me “It used to take ten days for someone to request a new laptop. During the pandemic, it took about ten hours.”
Plenty of folks stepped up and took on heroic feats at work while balancing even more heroic challenges at home and with their health.
But that crisis-driven sprint became a marathon. And the way you run a marathon is completely different than the way you sprint.
It takes different muscles. If we’re sprinting for too long, we burn ourselves out.
So, if you’re now packing up for a traditional office, leave any habits that aren’t working for you behind.
It’s the perfect time to reset your:
Even if the location is the same, everything else is different. You get to choose what needs to be different for you.
3. Decide how you’ll use technology (and not let it use you.)
These two videos will help you revisit your relationship with your tech tools —and change it if you need to.
4. Remember, everything’s all made up.
Once upon a time, your job was made up.
Somebody made it up as a solution to a problem they (or their customers, or clients) were having.
The first time someone did what’s now your job, they didn’t have a roadmap. Maybe they knew the problem they were supposed to solve–or more likely, they knew what someone else thought the problem was. Now they needed to figure out what the REAL problem was.
There was no predictable path: they had to make it up.
As you return to the office, you can remake what you do, too. All jobs are made up, even yours, even if it seems like there’s a structure or specific way things need to get done.
Structures and patterns often exist out of habit and pattern. “Culture” is just a collection of agreements (spoken and unspoken) that we make about “how we do things here” (and we can take actions to change our culture rather than accepting one that doesn’t work.)
And in today’s new workplace, old thinking about structure and culture can get in the way of the real work of solving the problems you’re meant to solve.
Instead of accepting chaos and confusion, choose creativity instead. If you need fresh prompts to shake you out of old thinking, try these:
- If this were an adventure movie, what would the hero do next? If it were a drama? A comedy?
- What is the opposite action from what others might expect you to do in this situation?
- What’s the real problem this work is trying to solve? Where’s the pain?
- If it were easy, how would that problem get solved or that pain get relieved? What can you do now to get closer to that?
Choosing creative action instead of suffering in chaos will always move you forward.
5. Your leaders are making everything up, too.
Like you, they’re human. This experience is new to them, too. They’re making it all up, and doing the best they can for what they know.
There’s no perfect roadmap or guide on how to make this transition. Instead of complaining about the decisions they make, put yourself in their shoes and share a bit of empathy (but keep asking for what you need—our leaders can’t learn what’s working and what’s not unless we’re telling them.)
6. Your new rule of thumb: people first, then projects.
Financial expert Suze Orman often cites this guiding principle for making decisions: “People first, then money, then things.”
The biggest reason to be back in a physical office is to be with people.
To collaborate with them. Help them. Learn from them. Let them learn from you.
So if you’re headed back, put people first. Plan ahead for the time people take—we’re not computers. Use their presence to give you more of whatever you want right now in your life at work. Allow yourself to be human, too.
Of course, not everyone will return to the office. Many won’t be there full-time. No matter where you’re working, be the person who puts people first, and your impact on the return to the office will be felt long-term.
For more help as you return to the office:
- Read “How to Ask for More Support At Work” here.
- Read my article “Reset Your Remote Team” here.
- Read “How Do I Say No at Work? Scripts & Strategies.”
Plus, my book “Red Cape Rescue: Save Your Career Without Leaving Your Job” teaches you simple, practical ways you can take back control of your life at work, right where you are, just as you are. Get it on Amazon, Audible, or your favorite online bookseller.