Most of my working life has taken place between cubicle walls or in the hustle and bustle of an open office. But recently, after I took three months of leave, my company generously offered to let me work from home for a bit before coming back to the office full time.
Luckily, returning to the work itself wasn’t too much of a struggle. Returning to the workplace, though... that was a different story. The transition from my quiet home office to an open floor office, complete with foosball and ping pong tables, was challenging.
Some frazzled months later, I’ve largely adjusted to working in an office again, and along the way, I’ve learned a few things about staying calm, happy and productive in an office space. If you’re worried about an upcoming transition to an office, keep reading for a few tips.
1. Set boundaries.
For better or worse, offices, especially those with open floor plans, offer next to no privacy or silence. Anyone can interrupt you at any time — whether that’s a coworker wondering about your weekend or a manager giving you some project info. It’s easy to lose all your time, attention and energy to other people, leaving you with little work done at the end of the day.
But any successful relationship requires you to set boundaries — including your relationship with work and coworkers. So, once you’re back at the office, it’s okay to state that just because you’re at your desk doesn't mean you are automatically available to chat.
You can either straightforwardly tell people when you’re free or find handy shortcuts. For instance, one friend and coworker wears her headphones to signal that she’s totally engrossed in a project and can’t be interrupted right then. Another friend placed a light on his desk that he could switch from red to green. Red meant not to bother him, while green meant he was free to talk even if his headphones were on and he was typing away furiously.
2. Prioritize yourself.
In my experience, maintaining an identity outside of work becomes much harder when you spend 40 hours a week working in an impersonal office instead of in your cozy bedroom or comfortable kitchen.
After all, in the office, you can’t set your laptop down to make a cup of tea, pull a book from a shelf and curl up on the couch with a blanket and cat for a blissful 15-minute break. You can’t break up work time with household chores, like switching out laundry loads. Now, those tasks cut into your after-work personal time.
Once you switch to working at an office, it’s more important than ever to take care of yourself. For me, that means actively setting aside time each day to read, walk or experiment with new recipes. Whatever makes you feel like you, consciously weaving it into your week will help you maintain your identity.
3. Find the positives.
There are plenty of downsides to working in an office, and I’m not a fan of telling people they have to look on the bright side. But when I get overwhelmed with everything that makes me anxious about working in an office (the noise, the frantic pace, the constant interruptions), it helps me to remember some of the things I genuinely love about my office, starting with the people.
I’m lucky enough to work in a welcoming, friendly environment with coworkers I adore, admire and love talking with. A few other pros? When you only work at the office, work doesn’t encroach as much on your personal space. Face-to-face conversations with mentors and managers are much easier without the glitchy Skype connections or pixelated Google calls.
Best of all, when you are home and not at the office, you can give yourself and your family members the undivided care and attention you all deserve.
When I mentally balance office negatives with office positives — and when I actively set boundaries and prioritize myself — I’ve been able to get back to office work with less trepidation and more clarity, focus and resilience.
Kylie McQuarrie has five years of experience writing for and about small businesses, most recently on Business.org. When not writing, she reads voraciously, acts as a sofa for her chaotic cat, and meticulously curates Apple Music playlists.