Returning to work [post-lockdowns] is upon us. Last December , I was invited to speak at a small, intimate event at the end of Melbourne’s hard lockdown [it was a resounding “yes!” from me, because the event was *so* completely in alignment with my values etc.].
When I said “yes” though, I didn’t even think to ask [because we’d been in lockdown all year, and had only just come out of hard lockdown] if it was virtual or in-person. Because I knew: it’ll be virtual. Of course. Like everything else had been for an entire Melbournian year. I mean, we’d not done anything other than virtual-everything for all of 2020.
Imagine my surprise when in the week or so leading up to said-event, I get an email confirming the venue location / where to park / who I’d see at the door etc., as well as all of the COVID safe information I’d need etc. and I’ll be honest, my anxiety went from 0 to eleventy billion within seconds.
“In-person?!?!?!”, I gasped.
“Is this legal?!”, I pondered.
“Is this safe?!”, I asked [myself].
I sent an email back saying, “is this in-person, or just a generic email going out? I then asked for the Zoom link for my session etc.
Then came the reply, “no, this is an in-person session. We can’t wait to see you” etc.
I’m not going to go into huge detail about how much my anxiety spiralled at this point, but I am going to say I went through an array of emotions: confusion, denial, torment [do I let them down and tell them I can’t make it, because I’m not comfortable in-person’ing when we’ve only literally just got Melbournian COVID numbers somewhat back on track], and if I’m honest? There was also a little bit of anger, “why wasn’t this clearer that it’d be an in-person thang?!”.
And before I could spiral any further, all speakers at this particular got a follow-up email that was [clearly] sent in response to other folk probably having expressed how nervous they were about this now being an in-person thing. And the follow up email was beautiful, and it was intelligent, and it was reassuring, and it was empathy fuelled … and it spoke to every fear I’d had upon realising this was an in-person thing [and my first in-person thing for more than 9-10 months].
And that’s prompted me to come here today to speak to every employee out there who’s [potentially] heading back to offices again this year  after lengthy time spent working-from-home.
Acknowledge the anxiety you’re undoubtedly feeling
Because after almost a year spent within the x4 walls of our home, I can assure you that Melbournians are setting their feet back into workplaces again … and feeling like what they’re doing is illegal and dangerous and scary.
You’re allowed to feel anxious [I did], and you should acknowledge that [I did], and for me, i.e TDP’s organisational leader? I’m absolutely thinking about every one of TDP’s employees and how they all must be feeling about potentially heading back to work after an almost-entire-year locked inside the homes.
Anxious? Understatement. But we’re ready for the empath lovebomb’ing that’ll be required as we settle everyone back into returning to [in-person] work again.
Let go of the “but this could all just be on Zoom?!” frustration
Trust me when I say this, this also epitomises how I felt about aforementioned event that “could have just been a Zoom?!”.
The thing is though, everything can “just” be a Zoom … but feck me, it doesn’t even compare to the in-person experience[s] that are waiting out there for you / me / all of us. #promise.
When we settle [yet again] for [yet another] Zoom, we genuinely dip into a place where we run the risk of legitimately forgetting what’s golden about in-person’ing … and as your resident introvert? I’d probably need minimal arm twisting to make TDP a fully remote workplace, but I also know we miss out on something seriously special [and f*cking important for a creative agency like ours] when we give up on in-person entirely.
Yes, I’m grateful ours was one of the workplaces that easily pivoted to WFH … but I’ll also be rejoicing when our creative, strategic, collaborative huddles will be in-person once more [because when it comes to that kinda work? … Zoom sucks]. #lol.
Recognise that you’ve had a year off from remembering everything that’s actually good about in-person’ing
How good are work days spent in pyjamas, or trakkies? How good is a 5 second commute? How good is more time with your partner / kids / fur babies?
It’s all good. Like, really good [and I hope you’ve got the kinda workplaces out there who are open to incorporating more of that in to your 2021 RTW plan], but d’ya wanna know what’s also good?
Leaving your house. Enjoying some separation from your partner / flatmate[s] etc. A commute [podcasts, anyone?!]. The reduction to the sensory overwhelm you experience when WFH’ing with little people around. Walking to a cafe for a coffee. Bantering with colleagues. Laughing until you cry with colleagues. Being able to stand behind a colleagues desk so that they can very-f*cking-easily show you something that felt so much longer during the pandemic when EVERYTHING-WAS-ON-ZOOM. Team lunches [not held on Zoom] where conversation flows, instead of “oh, sorry. No you go” on Zoom. #lol
If you’ve had a lengthy period away from all o’ that? … I promise you that you’ve forgotten how much good there is in in-person’ing again.
But hold on [fiercely] to what was good [and worked for you] about WFH’ing, too
That said, fight [hard] for everything that was good for you re: WFH.
I want my employees to, too.
That said though, I too will be presenting my team with a lot o’ the things that didn’t work re: ongoing WFH [because there was a lot, but we gritted our teeth through it because there was no other option].
We have options again, and there will be a lot more WFH … but TDP’ll have in-office expectations, too [and we’ll be making these really clear].
And finally? Enjoy your return-to-work day.
Like, honestly, we’re really happy for you.
You’ll feel like Charlie from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Promise. You’ll walk back in, and you’ll be all like, “my DESK!” and “my COLLEAGUES” and “the SILENCE from CHILDREN!” and … whatever you hold dear to you re: your decision to be the employee that signs up for a work gig that has an accompanying workplace.
I [Cherie] just returned to work a few weeks ago, and I’m still giddy at just how good in-person’ing is [I’d genuinely forgotten!].