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You have no idea how strange I find it sitting here writing a post one year on from the start of lockdowns in the UK. While we’ve all been in and out of them at different times, things look set to return to some semblance of normality soon. Children are returning, gradually, to classrooms. Shops are beginning to reopen. Hospitality are itching to get their feet back under the table. And across the UK, adults are preparing to return to work.
While many people worked relentlessly through the lockdowns, many were let go or furloughed. Some people started working from home and are yet to return to their offices. On the other hand, others have been told they will work remotely indefinitely. Personally, I was in the furloughed boat. Leaving the office 24th March 2020, I didn’t know if/when I would be back. In the end, I was back in the office on 6th July. But only part time – the new flexi-furlough. Preparing to return to work at that stage, for me, consisted of celebrating getting out of the house! Since then, I have been flexi-furloughed and working only in the office as it’s not a job that can be done from home.
However, normality draws near!
Now that Northern Ireland are beginning to open up – check out Northern Ireland’s Roadmap out of Restrictions – and England seem to be waking up, work is getting busy. And I love it! Is it a little too much to handle? Sometimes. But only if I haven’t prepared for it. We’re now currently at 4 days in the office each, but who knows what April will bring. The point in telling you this is, no matter what you do or how many hours you work, preparing to return to work is important. Especially if you’ve just spent the last 12 months either working from home or furloughed.
Why You Need To Prepare To Go Back To Work
This one shouldn’t really need explaining. I mean, if you’re reading this on your phone, still in your pyjamas, cup of coffee beside you, and your work emails open on the computer in front of you… you get my point? If you’ve been working from home, you’ll have figured out a routine of sorts by now. If you’ve been fully furloughed, then getting your head back into gear might be hard to do. And it’s not just the actual work you’ve to prepare for either. There’s the outfits, the food you’ll be eating, your travel, and maybe even your sleep pattern will need to be changed again. If there are other people in your household, they might also need a little help getting used to the idea of you being back in work too.
Preparing to Return to Work: In Advance
Have I got your heart racing with fear about getting back to work? Worry not! For below are my top tips on preparing to return to work. While these are tips that have worked for me, I appreciate everyone is different. If I miss something that you find key to preparing for work, let us know in the comments below!
1. Let Others Know
First up is a straightforward tip. You need to let the others in your house/bubble know you’re returning to work. If you need to arrange childcare, a dog walker, or even just get your other half prepared for that alarm clock again. Have a conversation with anyone and everyone it might affect. Someone always phone you at a certain time? Drop them a text and arrange a new catch up time. Mark on the calendar when you’re not going to be around so you know to ask a neighbour to receive deliveries for you when necessary. Communication is key. Also, the more you say out loud that you’re returning to work, the more likely you are to get your brain to start thinking about it.
My family like to meal plan. It’s a vital part of our food shop, and helps us not to overspend on groceries. Chances are, if you’re returning to work after a long time off, you’re going to lack energy when you come home. If there’s no one else still in the house able to prepare your evening meals, you’ll want to plan them in advance. Nothing is worse than coming home tired, stressed, and hungry, only to find there’s nothing to cook. Similarly, you may want to plan your lunches. Whether you’ve been eating better since lockdown began, or you’re trying to get back to healthy foods, grab a pen and notepad and jot down what you plan on having each day. It’ll save you time in the mornings, and saves money spent on shop-bought meals.
Chances are, you haven’t worn your work outfits for quite a while. While you’re planning your meals, take a look in your wardrobe, or in the floordrobe, and see what needs washed. Get it into that washing machine and out on the line while we still have some decent weather! Maybe your favourite shirt needs ironed? Alternatively you may need to find an open drycleaners for that blazer you wear? As you did in your school days, polish those shoes and make sure you’ve clean clothes ready to start back!
4. Sort Out Your Sleep
Again, this is one I took quite hard. Back in April 2020, I continued to wake up at the same time as I had for work. Except I suddenly realised I could catch up on sleep. Then Netflix and everything else took over, and soon my sleep pattern was all over the place. When preparing to return to work, the big thing to do is sort out your sleep pattern unless you want to rely heavily on caffeine for the first few days back at work. Whether that means gradually going to bed earlier, or slowly waking up earlier, starting now will save you a lot of grief when the alarm goes on your first day back at work.
5. Make Travel Arrangements
If you used to carshare but aren’t able to now, you may want to look at your public transport options. If you used to drive, but want to start being healthier, figure out how much time you need to walk or cycle to work each day. Dad used to taxi to the train station every morning for work. If that sounds like something you do, remember to get it booked or those monthly tickets purchased! Mainly, the thing I needed to do was check I had petrol in the car and the tyres weren’t soft. Remember, current guidelines in most parts of the UK are for essential travel only. Therefore public transport is running a reduced service. If you think your regular service might have changed, call your transport company to check.
The Night Before…
While the above covers everything you need to do in advance of heading back to work, there are some things you just can’t do until the night before returning to work. When you prepare to return to work, leave these until the night before if you’re looking for a great first day back!
1. Leave Your Clothes Out
You don’t want to be in a panic trying to find something to wear. Check what the weather is meant to be, take into account what your workplace is normally like for temperature, and factor in that most places now have an open window policy to allow fresh air to circulate. Remember, if you’ve just spent months in your comfies, either working from home or furloughed, you may want to find a suitable alternative to ease yourself back into workwear. For example, I bought some elastic-waisted trousers [aff] from M&S that are perfect for wearing in the office! If you’re trying to get back into wearing office clothes, maybe swap the heels for a pair of flats, or even just wear your comfy underwear for the first day back in. Remember, you want your first day back to go as smoothly as possible!
Whether you relax best in the bath with a glass of Chardonnay, or by going for a run, set yourself time to unwind. And if that means locking your phone and laptop away, do it! Watch a film or an episode of one of your favourite boxsets, take a pamper night of face masks and candles, or play with your pet. Even spend time with your kids, or an afternoon in the garden the day before you head back into the office! Whatever you do, you want to wipe all thoughts of work from your mind. Which brings me to the next point.
3. Try Not To Overthink
I admitted in December that during that 4 minute drive to work on 6th July, my brain had been spiralling. What if I couldn’t remember how to do something basic? What if I messed something up and no one was in to help fix it? Would I be able to cope in the office on my own? What had been going on with our suppliers? By the time I reached the 2nd set of traffic lights (a mere 2 minutes from my house) I had myself overthinking that much I felt physically sick. However, by the time I got into work, made a coffee, and opened up the computer, I was fine again. I had allowed myself to overthink every little thing that comes as second nature in work. Just don’t ask me what the phone number for the office is because I still get it mixed up with my current home phone and the home phone from before that. The customer I was speaking to just laughed and called it “furlough brain”. And trust me, it happens to all of us. Lying in bed the night before overthinking everything that could possibly go wrong isn’t going to help anything.
The most important thing is to not be too hard on yourself. It’s okay to feel anxious. It’s okay to worry about it. And it’s okay to be sad that your “new normal” is changing again. If at any stage it becomes too much, remember to reach out to someone to talk to. Your mental health is important, so look after it. And hopefully soon we’ll all be back in work full time if we want to be.
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