Ways public servants can mentally prepare for the return to the office

By Melissa Coade

March 22, 2022

office-workers-cubicles
Kindness and supporting others are underrated in the workplace. (Image: Adobe/FrankBoston)

After many long months of either working from home or hybrid work arrangements, the public service is leading transition plans to bring people back into the office. But adjusting to the changed settings can be a challenging and anxious time. Here, one workplace expert shares her tips on how to cope. 

According to Angela Ferguson, the co-founder of workplace consultancy Future X Collective, the disruption of pandemic work has shaken up the balance between mental health and productivity in office settings. And public servants are at the pointy end of that change. 

Speaking to The Mandarin about navigating the enthusiasm and reluctance of returning to the office, Ferguson points to research her firm undertook which identified tips for individuals and workplaces to develop a thriving comeback. 

“It is important now that we leverage key learnings about hybrid work, mental health, and productivity to create an experience of work that is both fulfilling and rewarding,” Ferguson says. 

Public servants should work out a routine that works for them – and stick to it – Ferguson says. She suggests people revise what worked for them in 2021 and use that to plan their ‘ideal week’, which might mean renegotiating start and finishing times with managers to continue walking the dog in the morning, or preparing healthy meals and snacks for the workday.

“Returning to the office shouldn’t mean that life becomes busy and overwhelming – ideally the return to work should be adding more value and meaning as we re-connect with colleagues and open up to new enriching experiences,” she says. 

Individuals should also map out at least one or two social activities during the workweek to strike a balance between work and play. It is this mix of routine and balance that will help employees stay on top of their own needs and enjoy more resilient responses to trying scenarios.

“Planning social activities for the workweek helps to create a balanced lifestyle and reduce workplace stress,” Ferguson says. 

“Incorporating social connections with colleagues during the working week strengthens existing relationships and builds new ones – and these are the ties that support holistic wellbeing and keep us happy at work.

Return to work scenarios are also a great opportunity for workplaces to reconsider office design, Ferguson says. But individuals can use a micro approach to be empowered to declutter their workstations and avoid physical environments that are too crowded. 

Every office should be undertaking a new ergonomics review as staff return to their desks, she adds, and old appears and files that are no longer needed for 2022 should be shredded or filed away to reflect the clear space a new year should bring. 

“Sometimes all it takes is a fresh perspective after a few weeks’ break to help you shake up your workplace design,” Ferguson says. 

“Additionally, consider acoustics throughout and make room for collaborative, co-creation spaces and 1–2-person quiet rooms to help cater for increased virtual interactions.”

Ferguson also notes breaking old habits, including challenging old expectations that could have led to an unhealthy over-valuing of presenteeism in the physical office environment, are important to bear in mind during this transition period. 

Of course, workplaces have some responsibility to bear in challenging presenteeism culture, and there are behavioural protocols that departments or agencies can implement to encourage their staff to set appropriate boundaries. For example, staff can be given the option to choose what meetings they need to attend, they can limit overtime, or be encouraged not to respond to emails after hours. 

“In the new world of work, these behaviours can manifest in ‘electronic presenteeism’ evidenced by people all ways being ‘on’ by answering emails or texts at any time of day or constantly sitting in on as many virtual meetings as possible,” Ferguson says. 

“While people may think on face value that presenteeism is positive, this culture drives burnout and exhaustion in employees often resulting in long term loss of productiveness.”


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