It has been more than two weeks since April 5 ‒ the day when working from home became no longer the default arrangement for Singapore-based companies.
For someone working from home full time since the circuit breaker in April last year, I have been enjoying the flexibility of my new lifestyle.
I have to admit. Adjusting to WFH wasn’t easy at first, but it got better after I found several ways of coping with maintaining my work-life balance while WFH.
But now that we have the green light to go back to the office, the thoughts of once again having to mingle definitely has the introvert in me worried.
Would I be able to fit in after not meeting my colleagues in person for almost a year? How do I make sure I still have time to exercise? Is this goodbye to my quick lunches and farewell to saving money and time on the work commute?
The list of worries goes on and on in my head as I dread having to once again get used to another new “new normal”.
The Pride did a straw poll and asked five questions to find out how Singaporeans are coping with heading back to the office and the classroom:
“I feel happy to be back in office or school”
Respondents were almost equally divided on this, with 52% (27) voting yes versus 48% (25) saying no. This probably reflects how most of us have mixed feelings about heading back to the workplace. I think most recognise that it’s not a clear-cut issue and that there are pros and cons about being back in the office.
So what is there to like about going back? For me, I’m quite sure that it is going to be better for my mental health. As much as I dread having to make small talk after a year of not having in-person work conversations, I also know that physically mingling with colleagues is beneficial to opening ourselves up again.
One respondent pointed out that “Colleagues become like friends. You don’t see them every day but still keep in touch on a daily basis.”
I reckon he must be missing workplace conversations a lot!
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However, we must be careful not to take our colleagues for granted. After a year of conversations on Zoom, we may assume that seeing them in person at the office means it’s immediately back to business as usual.
Let’s not forget to have deeper conversations on occasion to check in on our colleagues’ mental health, just as we have learnt to do so while working from home.
Let’s continue to have the habit of asking our colleagues how they are before jumping straight into work conversations. You might be surprised that after a year away from the office, you might actually become closer to your colleagues!
That thought certainly makes going back to the office and connecting with colleagues (yay to office lunches!) something worth looking forward to.
“I feel more comfortable working from home rather than in office or school”
As expected, more than two-thirds (69%) of our respondents said that they are more comfortable working at home than in office or at school.
One of the respondents shared: “Things move slower, fewer face-to-face meetings (YAY!).”
This is one of the more positive takeaways from the whole WFH experience. Over the past year, we have found out that there are alternative ways of working: Not every meeting needs to be conducted in-person.
For introverts who dread having to meet people, working from home has definitely brought greater comfort. As a society, we have slowed down to find a better work-life balance (more time with family, more time for self-care) and that’s a good thing.
“I feel that I’m more anti-social and socially awkward now”
But there’s a downside to it. More than two-thirds (69%) of our respondents also said that they are feeling more anti-social after a prolonged period of working from home. 72% also expressed feeling more socially awkward returning to work and school.
Some results include needing more energy to engage with people and finding it more awkward to talk to colleagues since “we wear masks and it’s harder to interact and see others”.
For some, the passage of time and the pressure of economics have taken its toll too: “School and office no longer feels familiar to me; since people have left.”
“I feel that I’m less productive now that I’m back in the office”
One thing I asked myself after finding out that I have to return to the office is whether I would be more productive. After a year of wearing athleisure outfits for WFH and tumbling from bed to laptop in five minutes, won’t my work efficiency fail now that I have to spend time getting dressed up for work, traveling to the office as well as dealing with all the workplace distractions?
Oddly enough, our respondents were pretty even on their responses. 55% admitted to The Pride that they feel less productive at the office while the remaining 45% believed that their productivity isn’t compromised.
One respondent shared how her lessons from working from home has helped her deal with going back to the office: “Learn to cherish work-life balance.”
That’s right, one of the lessons the pandemic has taught us is that it is important for our mental well-being to maintain a work-life balance no matter where we are – be it at home, or in the office. That realisation will bring quality of life and a better mental state.
Have we matured from the pandemic?
Polls aside, we have to accept that working from home isn’t the default setting for us any more.
But remember how uncomfortable we were when we first had to get used to working from home? We adapted to the new normal then. Going back to the office is just another “new normal” again.
So it’s okay to feel “weird” or “out of place” as we return to the office and the classroom. And it’s okay to take a while to adjust. It’s okay not to be okay.
As I thought about how the pandemic has left us with valuable life lessons, I wonder just how many of these do we still apply to our lives now?
Talking and sharing about our individual concerns can help us better understand what battles each of us may be facing. Let’s learn to spare a thought in our words and actions towards others.
So let’s talk about it, over those office lunches that we used to miss and now that we can have again (up to a maximum of 8, of course).
And here’s another suggestion of dealing with back-to-the-office blues, in response to one of our readers’ observations about going back to the office: “No smiles. Everyone is masked up.”
So learn to smile again, even from behind a mask. A crinkling of the face and a twinkling eye will go a long way to reminding ourselves to be grateful for little things.
And a special thanks to our readers who contributed to this article by responding to our poll!