How to manage the “return to workplace” phase

This time of change Walk The Talk with POINT3 Wellbeing

Managing “This Time of Change” by Nicky Morgan

During one of our Walk The Talk webcast episodes, I chatted to Imogen Wall – Humanitarian Aid expert, Therapist + Mental Health First Aid Instructor about “This Time of Change” and ways we can look to equip people to manage and embrace the return to work phase – whether that’s in an office, remotely or a hybrid of the two.

Change is Omnipresent

Whilst I’ve always been cognitively aware that change is omnipresent – never more so has that been apparent than in these last 18 months. And right now “change” feels like it’s occurring thicker and faster than ever. For some people this will bring with it joy and excitement. For others, fear and apprehension. For some, they may simply not know how they’re feeling at all.

Anxiety UK recently released some data which indicates 37% of people are looking forward to this time of “re-opening”, 36% of people feel uneasy about it and the rest simply don’t know.

So why is it that this particular time of change is bringing with it polarised opinions and no consensus on an emotional and psychological level?

What is re-entry syndrome?

Imogen invites us to dive into the work of Gullahorn & Gullahorn to gain an understanding of the very relevant “re-entry syndrome” – to help us understand what might be going on. Re-entry syndrome – also referred to as “reverse culture shock” – can be defined as “psychological distress brought on by making major readjustments in life” – and has until now mostly affected the likes of submariners, arctic explorers and astronauts. 

Imogen asks us to consider how, during this time of self-isolation, you have changed on a personal level – it is almost certain we all will have to one extent or another. And now we find ourselves “re-entering” our workplaces, our high streets and our world – there will inevitably be a time of transition that on average is likely to take 3-6 months to adjust to.

How to Hybrid?

Deep breath. No wonder this time of change is bringing with it so many challenges for those people making the big workplace decisions regarding “how to hybrid”. The fact is there is no blueprint for how to make a faultless transition – and no crystal ball to see where each individual workplace will ultimately end up. I hope this brings with it a release of pressure for those making the decisions – coupled with empathy and compassion from the wider workforce – as this time of change will require time, patience and experimentation. This time of change is likely to continue changing for a while to come…

So what practical things can those making cultural decisions at this point in time consider? Imogen shares the following advice:

  1. Expect this time to be particularly tiring / overwhelming and do whatever you need to do to manage that including looking after the basics like regular movement, prioritising sleep, good nutrition and making time for things you like to do.
  2. Consider a period of “re-orientation” for your people by inviting them for a trial return at their own pace.
  3. Understand that everyone in your organisation will be experiencing this time differently – try to keep open-minded, non-judgmental and make allowances based on this understanding.
  4. Consider that your people will likely “change within the change” – it’s to be expected that people will swing back and forth with their opinions and decisions. Remain flexible and have patience!
  5. Do what you can to reduce your “cognitive load” at this point in time – i.e. reduce the amount of decision making you’re doing. So, now may not be the best time to re-decorate your whole workspace or take on another project that could wait for example.
  6. Take comfort in the fact that no one has the answer. To a certain extent all business leaders are guessing at this point in time. So be kind to yourself!

Finally now, more than ever, is the time to communicate often and consistently – with the emphasis on making the communication consultative, (where appropriate), in order to bring your team on the journey with you.

Active listening is likely to become a workplace superpower in 2021 as we listen empathetically to the narrative in our workplaces – and navigate this time of change together day-by-day.

To watch the full webinar please click here.


This includes mindset training specifically for Managing Change, where we explore the science in more detail and practical tips to help people manage themselves and each other with more empathy and compassion.

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