Returning to the office

Published in Blog by Damian McCann on August 19th 2021

Damian McCann, Head of Learning & Development and Director of City Wellbeing Centre, explains some of the challenges of our returns to the offices.

Returning to the office

Returning to the office after a long holiday, extended leave or break can see us reassess our priorities, re-evaluate our values and re-imagine how we would like to live our lives.

A change to our routine interrupts the work and stress cycle and allows a different part of our brain to develop plans for the life we want. We might want to prioritise family over work and put the needs of loved ones over those of work colleagues. But do we stick to our new and often idealistic plans?

With an unprecedented 18 months out of the office, Covid has made many of us re-think careers, ways of working and evoked very individual reactions. Whilst a lack of commute has proved popular with many, some have missed the opportunity to wind down and put a marker on the end of the day. Whilst spending more time with children has been enriching for some, others have found the distraction has given rise to parental guilt and exacerbated feelings of inadequacy.

As we prepare to gradually move back to the office, even a few days a week, how do we feel about spending more time with colleagues and inevitably less with family? Is the chance to connect face to face again exciting or are we worried about having to return to a routine that doesn’t work for us? How do we achieve our own sense of balance?

A study in March of over 3,000[1] employees showed that over two-thirds felt disconnected from co-workers and a large majority felt this was negatively impacting their work.

It is clear we don’t want to lose office working altogether and have missed workplace interactions. A study in March of over 3,000 employees[1] showed that over two-thirds felt disconnected from co-workers and a large majority felt this was negatively impacting their work. Countless research studies demonstrate a hybrid model of both office and home working appeals to a large proportion of the workforce.

Work relationships

Human connection is a basic need and positive social interactions have multiple benefits on our physiological processes. Relationships with our colleagues enjoy the same value as those with friends and family which is why the lack of face to face connection has affected many of us personally and professionally.

Personally, close relationships at work can help reduce stress and help us feel healthier and happier. Shared goals decrease frustrations, improve job satisfaction and reinforce purpose. Whilst we are able to communicate digitally, we lose the benefit of casual interactions, fun and the bond inducing conversations that go beyond “how was your weekend?”.

Professionally, having to schedule every conversation has disrupted information flows and the engagement and productivity from collaborative working has been lost. Managers have struggled to build relationships with new hires as they on-board remotely, unable to easily introduce an organisational culture or fully understand what makes a new employee tick.

Maintaining balance

It used to be commonplace to hear people say “I spend more time with my colleagues than my family!” and to talk about their “work family”. It is clear that workplace relationships bring a wealth of benefits, but many of us have also grown to value extra time at home with family.

In an ideal world, your employer is open to a new way of working and you are able to have some input into how many days are spent at home and in the office. Never before have we had the opportunity to have such open and honest conversations about how we want to work and this can really help manage the initial transition to a different way of working. Making sure you understand what works for you is essential in ensuring the best chance of finding the right personal balance.

It is natural to feel apprehensive about change. Our brains find change challenging, but just as we found ways to adapt to home working, we will adjust again to a new routine. The first days back in the office will evoke very personalised emotions. A mix of positivity about a sense of normality may be coupled with fear and anxiety. Some might feel elated and want to leap back into socialising after work, feeling guilty about wanting time away from family, some might find a face to face meeting a challenge and want to return home as soon as they can.

Getting help

Whatever you feel, if you are struggling to make sense of your emotions it is important to address them. Talking about how you feel can help understand why we feel the way we do, make choices and take action.

Many organisations understand the importance of physical and mental health and have programmes in place to help employees with their wellbeing. These can range from intranet information and advice to specialised apps and access to online or face to face counselling.

Alternatively, you may want to seek private counselling for a confidential space to talk through any confusing or difficult feelings and emotions.

Our services at City Wellbeing Centre are uniquely designed to be accessible to all irrespective of income. They are also delivered by highly trained psychotherapists for individuals and couples and we also offer therapy to groups. At present we are talking to City firms about developing partnerships to help promote health and wellbeing for their employees.

To learn more about the services we offer please visit us at


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