Ask the everywoman experts: ‘I have anxiety around returning to office-based work’

office based work

Three experts consider an everywomanNetwork member’s question around how she can overcome her anxiety and best approach the transition to hybrid working…


An everywomanNetwork member writes...

Even though home working has had its challenges over the past year, I feel as if I have actually been able to concentrate more on my work, and in some ways, I’ve performed better by having more flexibility and greater ability to speak up through video conference meetings. Now that it looks as if we are going to start going back into our office, even though it’ll be on a part-time basis, I am feeling anxious at the thought of having to adapt back to a more social, ‘visible’ way of daily working. I’m concerned at my ability to integrate back into a physical office and worried that my voice will get lost again in our old round-the-table meeting culture. How can I approach this transition in a way that will help me to feel more confident and ready for the change?  Lauren W, financial services sector


Remember the benefits

Draw on what you have learned about yourself as you move to hybrid working says Kirsty Ritchie, founder of Mind and Mission.

Kirsty Ritchie‘You’re coming from a place of having transitioned once — and even found it really beneficial. You’ve seen some real personal and professional benefits, so understandably there's an anxiety there about reversing that. It’s time for some self-reflection in this transition period around your previous working practices, exploring why you felt you were not as visible as you wanted to be, what you found difficult about working in a physical office and why you felt you had less confidence or ability to speak out. Then you can look at what you have learned from the overall experience working at home this year and really compare and explore the two.

In terms of your performance, it’s about turning the whole thing on its head and saying, ‘I built a huge amount of confidence over the last year, how can I use that and really draw on that? What is it that made me feel confident?’ You need to recognise that you were able to adapt in the first place, and actually find huge benefits. So there's no reason why that confidence and adaptive experience can’t translate in the opposite way when you return to the office, because there's been personal and professional growth and that doesn't disappear overnight.

I would recommend really focusing on the facts; not the worries — what tends to happen is a thought pops in our head and we have a ‘premonition’ as opposed to really considering what that thought is based on. When that happens, pull yourself back to the facts and work to dissipate anxiety by understanding what you can control (your actions and thoughts), versus what you can possibly influence — and, importantly, what you have no control over.

Critically analyse any fears of ‘things going back to the same way’. Why would they? You’ve been able to grow and adapt personally and professionally. So, it's about remembering the feeling of ‘I can do this’ and ‘I can communicate in a completely different way’ — and how that was achieved. It can't just be because you were in front of a screen as opposed to face-to-face with people. And then it’s about drawing on that new strength and confidence and looking to convert that back into the physical office environment.’

Mind & Mission offers Mental Fitness Coaching Programmes for Organisations supporting staff to return to the workplace as well as individuals on a one-to-one basis



Set your boundaries…

Boundaries will be essential as we move to hybrid working, says Penelope Waller, Director at 4D Human Being. 

Penelope Waller ‘We’ve all experienced incredible change over the past year, and we’re coming up to another transition. It’s up to us to decide how we’re going to respond to that change – rather than letting the change happen to us. One of the reasons that we can feel anxious is because we feel that we don’t have control, but of course we do have some control and we are very adaptable.

‘The offer I would make to help you manage this is to set boundaries. Block time out for personal activities or even just because you want to take breaks within your schedule because you’re used to that now and consider your communication because you’re going to start to be around many more people. If you feel like you’re beginning to be asked to do too much, a wonderful reply is, ‘What I can do is…’ While it doesn’t answer the question directly, it means you can offer something to the other person without feeling overwhelmed by doing everything everyone asks you to do.

If you’ve found being heard though the forced etiquette of online meetings easier than physical meetings, think about the energy you put behind your voice. Consider your energy from one to 10; think about where your voice usually sits and if it's at the lower end of that it's going to be more challenging for you to get attention, online or off. My tip would be to choose a high number, and when you want to get your voice in the room, let that number inform your voice and the personal energy you put behind it.

And as the world starts to tell you that you've got to work in a different way it's really up to you going forward. Whether that’s deciding that some meetings will stay online, or you want to work from home three days a week; make decisions about how your performance is going to be best achieved, rather than relying on somebody else to tell you. You may be surprised at how adaptable bosses, HR and colleagues are, so, don't assume you have to abide by some kind of ‘office norm’.

Try to find the gift in the transition. If you're not feeling confident, it's likely you're telling yourself you're feeling anxious about the return to work. Start talking to friends, family, colleagues about one exciting thing about going back to work and that positive reframe will start to change your emotional state and raise your confidence.

And remember, many other people will be feeling anxious at this transition. One of the things we talk about at 4D Human Being is focusing on the relationship, not just the task. So, when you’re back, before you dive into meetings or your to-do list take a moment to set an intention to take care of the person in front of you, even if just to say, ‘It's so great to see you back in the office’.

4D Human Being offers energiser programmes for individual and team wellbeing, communication and connection.


Practice self-care...

You’re not alone,’ says Eve Menezes Cunningham, author of 365 Ways to Feel Better: Self-care Ideas for Embodied Wellbeing.

Eve Menezes Cunningham ‘Many people – especially more introverted souls – have found relief in lockdown. This shows how out of balance the world had been. Susan Cain’s delightful pre-pandemic book, Quiet, has support for introverts forced to be around others too much.

‘And while you’re worrying about things returning to normal, you’ve had this experience now and can be more conscious about what you introduce back into your life. Even if it’s part-time, that’s likely to be an improvement on the previous full-time in the office. How else might you bring even a few tastes of what has worked for you during this challenging year? The break in the norm means we’ve all had to pivot, adapt and reset several times as public health guidelines keep changing. 

‘You can also use your body and breath to support you in feeling more confident during the roundtables — 80 percent of the signals between body and brain go up from the body to the brain so it’s much easier than attempting to tell ourselves to be more confident or happy to be around others.

‘Power Posing is a concept Amy Cuddy developed from yoga research. This research came from her wanting her quieter students at Harvard Business School to shine. By holding an expansive pose (think ‘starfish’ or  ‘Wonder Woman’) for just two minutes, testosterone rose (increasing confidence), and cortisol dropped (reducing stress). The effects last for hours so doing it on the mornings you need to go in will help you throughout the day (and you can top up in private if the office loo is big enough or maybe find a quiet hallway).

‘Experiment with chanting or even singing to help you develop your voice and feel calmer. This elongates the exhalation, activating the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system. It will also help you practice using your voice, making speaking up easier.’ 

Access free mind-body practices and self-care support at selfcarecoaching.net/covid-self-care


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