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Ask the Mentor: Going back to the office feels too hard!

Qualms about returning to the office are a nice problem to have for some of us. But change is hard, says Media Mentor Esther Coleman-Hawkins. Focusing on the positives will help you sparkle again.
Ask the Mentor: Going back to the office feels too hard! Missing the commute? Us neither. Photo by Victor Forgacs on Unsplash.

Esther Coleman-Hawkins

Tuesday 16 February, 2021

The Question

Mr KJ writes: I used to love the office. I didn’t even mind the commute. Now I’ve been at home for a whole bloody year and, while it took me a while to get used to it, I love it. But I’ve just been told to prepare to return to working in the office full time, no options. I’m dragging my heels. How can I reignite my office fire?

The Answer

You are not alone! Depending on which survey you read anywhere from 20% to 75% of office workers don’t want to go back.

I’m a kitchen table/bed worker from way back, and I’ve loved the freedom it gives me to fit my life around work. However last year, when my life shrunk to a mask-wearing-5km-radius from said table, I started to really miss, and romanticise, the office.

Cue dreamy music and Vaseline-lensed images of communal kitchens, fridges bulging with labelled containers and passive aggressive notes in the bathrooms.

All over the world there are people like you: home-working virgins who discovered the benefit of commute-free lives, greater flexibility and the ability to exist entirely in comfy-core clothing.

But back to reality.

Safety first – are you confident with your company's Covid-Safe plan? Do you feel safe going back? If not then you need to raise that specific issue, ideally and a solution, with your boss.  If all else fails contact the Workplace Health & Safety regulator in your state.

Read: Ask the Mentor: How do I make Screen Forever online worth my while?

But if you have to go back, and it’s safe to do so, you need to rekindle the passion.

What’s worked for you about WFH? What have you liked the most about it, and is there a way to keep some of these benefits?

If it’s the loss of the commute then ask whether part time remote working is possible. And if not, look at alternative jobs nearer to your home to remove the commute altogether.

If it’s the flexibility to do a load of washing between Zooms then investigate flexible working hours.

Finally, you might have the right to refuse to work in the office. Fair Work Australia has the full info.

But if you come up short on these options then you need to find a way to make the office tickle your fancy. So, I’m going to employ a well-known teen girl strategy when dealing with objects of their affections – a 'pros and cons' list.

First let’s list the ways in which home working is rubbish

  • Zoom fatigue. Are people’s ‘comedy’ zoom backgrounds super annoying or what?
  • Isolation. I love my family and I know I’m lucky to have them, but it doesn’t make them any less annoying at times.
  • Is it harder to get things done because you are trying to do everything by text rather than talking?
  • Are you answering emails all day every day because there’s no life/work separation?

Slack…. Just slack

Now list the benefits of working in the office

  • Creative collaboration. You don’t know who will know stuff until they overhear you in the kitchen.
  • It’s easier to get a read of a room in person, when you can read body language.
  • Fewer snack-ortunities – colleagues are more judgemental than pets when you return to the fridge for the 5th time before lunch.
  • The commute can be good. It gives you a transition time and you can listen to a podcast or watch a TV show. Or as my friend, journalist Jenny Valentish did, write a novel on the commute. Over achiever!

I spoke to Amber Gibson, Community Manager for ACMIX, the co-working space where I work, about what the temperature of community is.

'From my experience managing co-working spaces, making the effort to work alongside other professionals in the physical environment provides a healthy separation from work and personal life. Co-working spaces provide opportunities for spontaneous interactions and conversations which we were deprived of last year when working from home. It seems the biggest hindrance for people working from home is the commute into the office which will take some time to adjust to and fall back into a morning routine. Yes, it's physically easier to roll out of bed and access your laptop from home but after chatting to residents, many are finding that the mental health benefits of serendipitous connection are worth the travel time.'

'Yes, it's physically easier to roll out of bed and access your laptop from home but after chatting to residents, many are finding that the mental health benefits of serendipitous connection are worth the travel time.'

Amber Gibson, Community Manager for ACMIX co-working space

I’ve recently had the option to return to the office and wild bulls couldn’t have held me back. Even having to wear a Brett-Sutton-Mouth-Bandana indoors hasn’t deterred me. I’ve missed face-to-face work, easy collaboration, the chit chat and even the notes about flushing.

Change is hard, transitions can feel overwhelming but in the end there’s no point pining for the past. So, get out your sparkle covered notebook, your Deely-Bopper topped pen and get listing all the good things about office life, and you’ll soon be happy to be back in its embrace.

Got a question for the mentor? Send it to us at editor@screenhub.com.au with the subject line 'Media Mentor Question' and we'll pass it onto Esther.

About the author

Co-founder of Media Mentors, Esther Coleman-Hawkins is an experienced TV producer, conference organiser and career mentor. Media Mentors provides one-on-one mentoring and runs workshops and networking events for people in the creative industry. Sessions with her, or her co-founder Denise Eriksen, can be booked through their website www.mediamentors.com.au