Mindfulness and compassion will be key to managing return to the office - Charlotte Armitage

It is without question that the adaptions that people have made to their working environment over the past 18 months have brought changes in the way that we perceive our work life and we have seen a shift in priorities towards what many may consider a healthier and more desirable work-life balance.

Mindful approach needed

As a result of this, many employers are facing resistance when attempting to bring employees back into the office. This resistance arises for a number of reasons: a reluctance to be away from home comforts, financial savings, an unwillingness to spend hours commuting and a desire to have life which has more balance, a slower pace and more time to spend with families.

A number of organisations have offered their employees the choice to work from home for as many days as they want, but is having the freedom to work from home every day on an ongoing basis actually a healthy option? In my professional psychological opinion, although a level of flexibility is healthy, the option to work from home full time may result in unwanted and unexpected negative psychological consequences.

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As many people will have found, when working from home over the past 18 months, we have become desensitised to the world around us. Many will find social interaction anxiety provoking and emotionally draining, especially whilst they readjust to reintegration in society again.

It’s likely that this level of desensitisation will become heightened the longer that we choose to avoid social situations such as working from the office. When we feel uncomfortable in social situations, we make choices to alleviate that uncomfortable feeling, such as avoiding the situation that causes the distress.

The difficulty with this is, that if we all continue to avoid social situations and continue to work from home, we will find it difficult to begin working in an office environment again.

The hybrid model of working, which allows employees the opportunity to be flexible with their working schedule with a number of days in the office, in combination with a number of days working from home, offers the best of both worlds for employees.

We are fortunate to live in a time of advanced technological systems and it’s quite clear that up until we were forced to, we haven’t taken advantage of the technology available and the freedom this provides us with.

However, now that we have had to adjust to this new way of working and to the freedom that we can experience as a result of this, it has without doubt enforced a cultural shift in our attitudes towards the working structure that was once taken as a given.

Over the past few months, I have consulted for many organisations who are trying to adapt to the changing requirements and now, to bring their employees back into the office. Offering a hybrid, flexible, supportive approach is the best way of facilitating this transition.

Everyone has had a different experience throughout the past 18 months which will have been dictated by the home environment, relationships within the household, caring commitments, experiences of death, illness and mental health difficulties.

As such everyone will have a different attitude and approach towards reintegration. Being mindful and sensitive to the different challenges that people have faced and offering a person-centred approach to reintegration will result in a smoother, more collaborative and hopefully, a more willing attitude towards returning to office working.

Charlotte Armitage is a Business Psychologist & Psychotherapist