You can feel it can’t you?  Normal may just be around the corner.  Or is it?  

If you have ever had a sports injury or a physical accident, you know that normal is not a switch to flip.  It’s a process of moving slowly and deliberately to catch signals of where rebuilding capabilities can occur. Rebuilding may also present some interesting surprises.  

Here are things to consider as you rebuild for a return from remote work.

Catching signals – Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

Walk Before Running to Rebuild Your Capabilities Gently

Just like a physical injury, many of us had disruptions to work and life due to the pandemic.  Some would like to run back to an office environment.  I suggest you walk slowly.

You might re-evaluate what you used to do to prepare for your work day, to collaborate with others, and to close out your day.

  • Do you plan time for you to focus on your work as well as meetings?
  • Do you plan opportunities to take breaks, go outside when you can, and not stare at the same thing all day (staring at screens all day does not just happen when remote)?
  • Do you plan time for collaboration with colleagues, come up with working agreements on when to collaborate, or do you seek collaboration when you need it?
  • How do you “let go” of work at the end of your day?  Do you have routines to release stress?  Do you exercise?  Do you shut the laptop (not to bring home)?  What signals mentally that you are done for the day?

Routines need to shift when you go through transitions.

Prep Mentally and Gently

I recall vividly my physical therapy after a shoulder injury.  The injury happened in an instant.  It took months for me to regain the full use of my shoulder.  Some days, I didn’t want to go into therapy.  It disrupted my schedule, it was hard work and sometimes even a little painful as I tested my changing boundaries on the use of my shoulder.

Each session, I had to mentally prepare myself for the work of rebuilding that capability.

I suspect it will be similar for some when they get back into the office.  They have not commuted in over a year.  They forgot how noisy and distracting the office can become.  Maybe you feel odd being in a restaurant full of people at lunch time, or you get annoyed waiting for the microwave at work.  Or, you can’t play your music in the open while you work.  Headphones often required (again).

There may be many office routines we took for granted that you might need to prepare yourself for when you return to the office.

Not everyone can go back to “normal”

Also keep in mind that not everyone can or will want to go back to the way things were.  Recently, I met a student from eastern Europe in one of my classes.  She told me the vaccines probably will not start rolling out until late in the year.  She had “al least” another year of working in pandemic mode.

Think about that: Some will still be working in pandemic conditions for another year.

And, even though some may get vaccine shots, they appreciate some of the new choices they have with working remote.  They may not want to be in the office all of the time (or ever).  Does their work require constant collaboration, some collaboration, or minimal collaboration?  I would say that being in an office does not define your capability to collaborate, but some people back in the office will struggle with that too.  

Think about that:  Your office may no longer be defined by the building you are in as some colleagues choose to stay remote.

Think about new capabilities

When I think about rebuilding, I don’t just think about bringing things back to the way they were.  I look at what might be different and better.

Transitions give us an opportunity to break out of routines we’ve fallen into and truly think if they help or prove not that helpful.

As you move back into “the office”, return gently so you can see those signals to change your old pre-pandemic routines and the routines you now have after a year of working remotely.  What has helped and what was not useful?  You might even discuss within your colleagues to rethink what “office” means for all of you.

If you need help with mental preparation, look at my collaboration with April Jefferson on  If you are thinking of a remote or hybrid remote office and need help planning that, you might look at some of my other blog posts, my newsletter, my book on distributed organizations, or just contact me.