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How to Plan Return to Work (Guide for Employees)

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How to Plan Return to Work (Guide for Employees)

How to Plan Return to Work (Guide for Employees)

Welcome back to the workplace! 

You may feel overwhelmed by the responsibilities that await you or the uncertainty of what challenges lie ahead. Whether you’ve been away from work for weeks, months, or longer — no matter how long it’s been since you’ve had professional obligations — there are a few steps you can take to ease your transition back into working life.

This guide aims to help you navigate the challenges and changes you may encounter, offering practical advice and strategies to make your transition smooth and successful.

Understanding the New Work Environment

As you prepare to go back to work it’s important to remember that the work environment may have evolved over time. This evolution is not only about physical space but also often refers to changes in work culture, technology, and employee expectations. 

Here’s what you need to know:

1. Hybrid and Flexible Work Models

According to a Gartner survey, 82% of company leaders plan to allow employees to work remotely some of the time. The traditional 9-to-5 office model is increasingly giving way to more flexible arrangements. This could mean hybrid models (a mix of remote and in-office work), flexible hours, or even results-only work environments. Understand what your organization offers and how you can best leverage these options for your work-life balance and productivity.

2. Evolving Company Culture

The culture of your workplace might have shifted. There may be a greater emphasis on work-life balance, employee well-being, and inclusivity. Engage with your HR department or management to understand these cultural shifts and how you can contribute positively to the evolving culture.

3. Technological Integration

A McKinsey Global Survey found that companies accelerated the digitization of their customer and supply-chain interactions and their internal operations by three to four years due to recent shifts in work dynamics. The modern workplace is more technologically advanced than ever. Familiarize yourself with the latest tools and platforms your company uses, whether it’s project management software, communication tools, or digital collaboration platforms. Staying tech-savvy is crucial in a world where work processes are continually evolving.

4. New Policies and Procedures

Be prepared for updates in company policies and procedures. This can range from performance evaluation methods to new guidelines for teamwork and communication. Being familiar with these changes is essential for ensuring that you are aligned with the company’s expectations and standards.

5. Changing Office Layouts and Designs

If you’re returning to a physical office, expect changes in its layout and design. Open-plan offices, collaborative spaces, and hot-desking are becoming more common. A study by the International Facility Management Association indicates that 70% of American employees work in open-concept offices.  These changes aim to foster collaboration and flexibility but may require an adjustment period as you find the best way to work in these new environments.

Preparing Mentally and Physically for Your Return to Work

The transition back to work involves so much more than just showing up at the office or logging in from home. It requires mental and physical preparation to ensure you can perform at your best while maintaining your well-being. 

Here’s how you can prepare:

Mental Readiness

  • Shift Your Mindset: Transitioning back to work mode requires a mental shift. Begin by setting clear professional goals and reminding yourself of your role’s value and purpose. This mindset shift helps in re-engaging with work with renewed motivation.
  • Manage Stress: Understandably, returning to work might bring stress or anxiety. Techniques like mindfulness, meditation, or even simple breathing exercises can be effective in managing stress. Consider setting aside time each day for relaxation and mental decompression.
  • Prepare Emotionally: Be prepared for a range of emotions as you adjust to the new normal at work. A survey by Mind Share Partners found that 65% of employees have spoken to someone at work about their mental health status. Acknowledge these feelings and consider discussing your experiences with colleagues, friends, or a professional if needed.

Physical Preparation

  • Establish Routines: Establish a daily routine that includes consistent wake-up and sleep times, healthy eating habits, and regular exercise. A stable routine can significantly improve your energy levels and focus.
  • Workspace Ergonomics: Whether you’re working from home or in an office, ensure your workspace is ergonomically set up. This includes a comfortable chair, an appropriately positioned monitor, and tools that reduce physical strain.
  • Physical Activity: Incorporate physical activity into your day. Regular exercise, even short walks or stretching breaks, can boost your physical health and mental clarity. According to the American Psychological Association, regular physical activity boosts brain health and can reduce the risk of depression and anxiety.

Adapting to Work-Life Balance

  • Set Boundaries: Establish clear boundaries between work and personal life, especially if working remotely. This might include having a dedicated workspace and defined working hours.
  • Manage Time: Improve your time management skills. Prioritize tasks, set realistic goals, and take regular breaks to avoid burnout. Efficient time management can lead to a more productive and less stressful workday.

By preparing both mentally and physically, you can navigate the challenges of returning to work more effectively. Remember, it’s a gradual process, and it’s important to be patient with yourself as you adapt to the new dynamics of your work environment.

Effective Communication with Employers

Effective communication with your employer is essential when returning to work. It helps in addressing concerns, sharing ideas, and ensuring a smooth transition. 

Here’s how you can improve workplace communication:

1. Establish Clear Communication Channels

  • Understanding the Preferred Channels: Know the preferred methods of communication in your organization, whether it’s email, phone calls, virtual meetings, or in-person discussions.
  • Regular Check-ins: Schedule regular check-ins with your supervisor or manager. These can be used to discuss your progress, any challenges you’re facing, and feedback.

2. Expressing Concerns and Needs

  • Openness and Honesty: Be open and honest when communicating your concerns or needs. A recent survey found that employees who feel their voice is heard are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work. Whether it’s about workload, resources, or support, clear expression is key.
  • Solution-Oriented Approach: When presenting a problem, try to suggest possible solutions. This approach shows your proactive attitude and willingness to solve issues.

3. Feedback and Suggestions

  • Constructive Feedback: Offer constructive feedback about workplace policies, practices, or culture. Thoughtful feedback can lead to positive changes.
  • Welcoming Feedback: Be receptive to feedback about your work. This shows your commitment to personal and professional growth.

4. Adapting to New Communication Norms

  • Technological Adaptation: Be adaptable to new forms of communication, especially digital tools that have become more prevalent.
  • Cultural Sensitivity: Be culturally sensitive and respectful in your communication, especially in diverse workplaces.

5. Building a Relationship of Trust

  • Consistency and Reliability: Be consistent and reliable in your communication. This builds trust and shows your commitment to your role. According to a study, 70% of employees avoid difficult conversations with their boss, colleagues, or direct reports. So, it’s important to be open-minded and approachable while advocating for yourself.
  • Personal Connection: Try to build a personal connection with your employer. Understanding each other on a more personal level can enhance professional communication.

Effective communication is a two-way street that requires effort from both employees and employers. By engaging in open, honest, and respectful dialogue, you can foster a positive and productive work relationship. Remember, good communication is key to navigating the complexities of the workplace and achieving professional success.

Embracing Flexibility and Change

Embracing change isn’t just about keeping up; it’s about thriving in a workplace that never stands still. As we navigate through an ever-evolving professional landscape, let’s explore why being adaptable is so crucial and how you can develop this skill.

The Need for Flexibility

Flexibility goes beyond just the hours or location of your work. It’s about being open to new methodologies, diverse project roles, and innovative problem-solving approaches. A study by the International Workplace Group (IWG) found that 83% of workers would turn down a job offer that doesn’t provide flexible working, underscoring the growing importance of flexibility in the modern workforce.

1. Adapting to Technological Changes

Technology is growing at rocket speed and it’s hard to keep the pace. A McKinsey report indicates that 87% of executives are experiencing skill gaps in their workforce or expect them within a few years. This highlights the need for continuous learning and adaptation to remain relevant and effective in your role.

2. Coping with Organizational Changes

Change within organizations can be a source of stress, especially if you’ve been away for some time, but also an opportunity for growth. This support often includes training, maintaining open communication, and fostering a culture that values employee feedback.

3. Embracing a Growth Mindset

A growth mindset, as described by psychologist Carol S. Dweck, is vital in a constantly changing environment. It’s about seeing challenges as opportunities, persisting in the face of setbacks, and understanding that effort leads to mastery and growth. This mindset can be a significant asset as you navigate through changes in your workplace.

Practical Steps to Embrace Change

  • Start by setting small, achievable goals for adapting to new situations. Whether it’s learning a new software tool, participating in a different type of project, or adjusting to a new team dynamic, take it one step at a time.
  • Seek feedback and be open to constructive criticism. It’s a valuable way to learn and grow.
  • Stay informed about industry trends and changes. This knowledge can help you anticipate and prepare for shifts in your work environment.

In conclusion, embracing flexibility and change is about staying agile, being open to new experiences, and continuously developing your skills. By doing so, you position yourself not just to survive but to thrive in the dynamic world of work. Remember, in an environment that’s always changing, your ability to adapt is your greatest strength.

Work-Life Balance in the New Normal

Gone are the days when work and personal life were neatly compartmentalized; now, the lines are more blurred than ever. 

Whether you’re returning to the office, continuing to work remotely, or navigating a hybrid setup, finding that sweet spot of balance is key. It’s not just about managing your time; it’s about managing your energy, setting boundaries, and ensuring that your job supports your life, not the other way around. Let’s explore how we can regain and maintain this balance, making our workdays both productive and sustainable.

1. Setting Clear Boundaries

Due to the recent trend of remote and hybrid work environments, setting work-life boundaries can be tricky. A survey by Buffer on remote work shows that 22% of remote workers struggle with unplugging after work. Establish specific work hours and stick to them as much as possible to create a clear distinction between work and personal time.

2. Effective Time Management

Managing your time efficiently can significantly impact your ability to balance work and life demands. Tools like digital calendars, to-do lists, and setting priorities can help in allocating your time effectively. Remember, it’s not just about managing your work time but also ensuring you have time for rest and activities you enjoy.

3. Utilizing Flexibility

If your job allows for flexible scheduling, use it to your advantage. Flexibility can help you attend to personal responsibilities without compromising work commitments, thus improving overall satisfaction and balance.

4. Prioritizing Mental and Physical Health

Your health is paramount. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and sufficient sleep are fundamental to maintaining balance. Additionally, mindfulness and relaxation techniques can be beneficial in managing stress and enhancing mental well-being.

5. Leveraging Technology Wisely

While technology has made it easier to work from anywhere, it’s also important to disconnect. Set times for digital detox when you are away from digital devices to recharge. This can include designated tech-free hours in the evening or on weekends. 

6. Seeking Support When Needed

Don’t hesitate to reach out for support, whether it’s from colleagues, family, friends, or professional services. A strong support network can provide guidance and help you manage the pressures of balancing work and personal life.

7. Regular Self-Assessment

Periodically assess your work-life balance. Are you feeling overwhelmed? Is your personal life being neglected? Regular check-ins with yourself can help you make necessary adjustments before things become unmanageable.


Navigating the return to work in today’s dynamic and evolving workplace is a journey that is both challenging and rewarding. 

Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all path to reentering the workforce. Everyone will need to plan their return to work differently depending on their current situation, taking into account comfort levels and practical challenges. 

However, recognizing the importance of a set re-entry timeline and being aware of how to figure out the details of each step can help make the process go more smoothly. With the right approach and mindset, you can turn these changes into stepping stones for your career and personal growth. Here’s to embracing the new normal with confidence and enthusiasm!

FAQs on Returning to Work

How can I effectively manage stress as I transition back to work?

Managing stress involves a combination of strategies like establishing a solid routine, practicing mindfulness or meditation, and ensuring you have a support network. It’s also important to communicate your concerns with your employer and seek professional help if needed. Remember, adapting to change takes time, so be patient with yourself.

What are some ways to stay productive in a hybrid work environment?

Staying productive in a hybrid environment requires discipline and effective time management. Establish a clear routine, set up a dedicated workspace, and use digital tools for organization and communication. Additionally, regular check-ins with your team and supervisor can help maintain alignment and accountability.

How do I maintain a healthy work-life balance with flexible work hours?

To maintain a healthy balance, set clear boundaries between work and personal time. This might include having fixed start and end times for work, scheduling breaks, and ensuring you have time for personal activities and relaxation. It’s also beneficial to use any flexibility in your schedule to accommodate personal commitments, which can improve overall satisfaction.

What steps should I take for my professional development as I return to work?

Focus on identifying areas where you can expand your skills and knowledge. Look for internal and external training opportunities, seek feedback for improvement, and set specific career goals. Additionally, networking, mentorship, and staying updated with industry trends are crucial for ongoing professional growth.