Many of us are returning to work as quarantine restrictions loosen. While some are happy to get out of the house, some are equally stressed about returning to the office. *Nearly 70% of 1,000 workers surveyed said that anxiety about contracting COVID is only one of the reasons. Others cite child or elder care, fear of public transportation, and crowds.

These anxieties are valid. Initially the work-from-home (WFH) transition may have presented challenges, but we adapted. Our brains are able to make sense of unexpected change because adrenaline kicks in and we are forced to become more creative and resourceful. And, succeeding in something that we have never done before is rewarding.

Returning to the office is a return to the familiar – albeit changes and safety protocols. Our brains are made up of shortcuts we use for routine tasks. This autopilot mode may kick in when you enter your office space, but can short-circuit itself because your “familiar” is now “unfamiliar” and the brain needs to readjust. It can adjust within seconds but it does require a great deal of mental energy several times a day for the first few weeks. This can result in fatigue or stress.

What can you do?

First you can monitor any stress you feel. Remember that this can manifest in many different ways: you may find it hard to sleep, you may frustrate easily – either with yourself or a co-worker. Be aware of any behavior that is unusual for you.

Then, and I say it all the time, practice patience – with yourself and others. Other people or co-workers may be stressed out without be aware of it or wanting to be aware of it.

Be flexible. This new familiar will change as your state relaxes or enforces new policies for safety.

Manage expectations. Let your boss and or your staff know if you are trying to manage child care or if there are other factors outside of work affecting their expectations. Everything is different now, so it is important to be clear about any limitations.

And finally, be a source of happiness. Ask your colleagues how they are doing, help them in their transition if you can, share some funny work-from-home stories. Do your kids know your staff people by name? Do they know from the look on your face who is calling you? Did your dog jump on your ZOOM call? We really are all in this together and the time is right to create a sense of community in the office.

I saw something in an article about asking this question of people:  “A year from now (or five or ten), if someone asks how living through COVID-19 changed me for the better, what is my answer?”

Decide on how you want this to shape you – and hopefully that is for the better. What lessons have we learned? What has been positive in this experience?  Allow these thoughts to resonate into hope.

We are living through a historic time, and this pandemic will forever change our global landscape. There are unknowns ahead of us, and it is up to us to take the lessons, see the positive, and make it extraordinary.

*PriceWaterhouseCooper survey