Am I really ready to return to the office?

The new normal

So we have survived the incredibly difficult year that was 2020 and now its 2021. In Australia, life is slowly returning to normal, despite a recent spike in coronavirus cases in Sydney and Melbourne. Companies are now trying to encourage their staff to return to the office.

Working from home

A lot of Australians have been working from home since March 2020. Working from home has become normal and a lot of people have embraced its flexibility and the valuable opportunity to spend more time with family and loved ones rather than with colleagues.

After almost ten months of working from home, I was invited by my company to return to the office this week. Although I had decided late last year, that I needed to go back to the office for my mental health (as working, sleeping and eating within the same four walls everyday was getting claustrophobic and depressing), I surprised myself by turning down the opportunity. I had become too comfortable working from home — sleeping in and starting work in my pyjamas, showering whenever I felt like it, doing You Tube workouts at random times of the day and going for walks outside when it best suited me. I relished the freedom and flexibility that working from home gave me.

The other benefits of working from home included not having to commute, not having to arrive at the office at a set time and not having to put up with colleagues’ annoying behavior as well as workplace politics. But as I completed another week of working from home, I realised that there are definite disadvantages to working from home — there is no reason to dress up and look presentable, it’s easy to become a hermit and not interact with people and its tempting to develop some rather unhealthy habits like mindless snacking and an addiction to Netflix. The biggest drawback though is not seeing colleagues on a regular basis. I did not realise how beneficial the daily interactions with colleagues is for my mental health — grabbing coffee with a work friend and indulging in some gossip, banter and jokes with team mates and going out for Friday night drinks. These interactions kept me sane and mentally healthy. Spending way too much time in my tiny studio flat, away from people has not good for me — I have ended up feeling restless, bored and edgy and most of all, sad.

It won’t be easy for employers to get all of their staff back to the office. The introverts have thrived at home and are likely to put up resistance to returning to the outside world again. Workers with responsibilities such as child rearing and looking after ageing parents, will also likely prefer the flexibility of working from home. It is the extroverts who will very likely want to go back to the office, to finally be around people as that is how they thrive and it is the key to their happiness.

Being an ambivert

As I shared in another blog, I believe I am an ambivert. My introverted and highly sensitive side loves working from home in peace and silence. However, my extroverted side hates it and desperately needs to be around people.

One good thing about returning to the office is that I will only be required to work one to three days a week, which suits my ambivert personality. It means I get to interact with my colleagues and meet friends in the city for lunch or after work drinks as well as enjoy working alone at home, away from stimulation of the outside world.

So I have decided that when my company offers another opportunity to return to the office, I will take it, even though I feel a little trepidatious. It is not only the threat of the virus, it is also the adjustment back to office life. However, it is time for me to get back out there and stop hiding in my flat. To connect with people again, as uncomfortable as it may be at times. But I know it will be worth it, to ease the loneliness and to perhaps feel somewhat “normal” again.

Future working life

Although no one wishes that there had been a pandemic, it has certainly turned the working world upside down — companies have had to embrace a more flexible way of working and allow employees to work from home and accept that they can be just as productive at home as in the office (if not more so).

If the pandemic had not occurred, its possible we would have had many years of full-time office working before the benefits of at home working would have been recognised.

The ability to work from home has allowed many people to move from the cities to the coastal or rural towns and achieve the lifestyle they have always wanted.

As an ambivert, I am grateful that I can finally have the balance in my working life that I’ve always wanted — I will get to enjoy the stimulation of being in the office with colleagues but also have a chance to recover at home, alone and at peace. It is a win-win situation.

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Helen van Soest

Helen van Soest

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I’m a writer and editor, currently living in Melbourne, Australia. I love reading books, articles and blogs. See my blog: https://myhsp.life/