Readjusting to the office after shelter-in-place

July 27, 2020

"Change is situational. Transition, on the other hand, is psychological … Without a transition, a change is just a rearrangement of the furniture."

-William Bridges

Are you as sick of the term, “new normal,” as much as I am?

No doubt things are new, as in novel.

But there is little normal about what is happening these days if you mean familiar or predictable.

Take working from home.

For some, it’s been nirvana—a nonexistent commute, conference calls in sweatpants, and the freedom to move around during meetings. For others, it’s been frankly traumatic—trying to work around kids and pets, complete social isolation, and a whole new host of IT issues that YOU have to handle.

No matter where on that spectrum you are, if your employer is bringing you back to the office in the near future, buckle up. 

That’s going to be a big change.

Here are some tips on how to prepare, so that your productivity—and your sanity—don’t take a nosedive.


Everyone has a different comfort level when it comes to COVID-19 safety. As shelter-in-place orders have relaxed, you’ve probably become pretty familiar with yours.

Maybe you’re okay sitting near others on a patio without a mask on, but not inside. Or maybe you want to wear gloves and a full mask at all times.

Take those lessons you learned while you were stuck at home, and bring them with you to the new office environment. 

And make no mistake—it’s going to feel new.

Communicate your boundaries early and often, and give people a chance to respond.  

Likewise, listen to your colleagues when they express theirs.

Remember that we’re all learning together, and things won’t be perfect right away.

Plan ahead for how you’ll act in different scenarios. For example, what will you do if you walk into a crowded bathroom? How and where will you eat your meals?

Knowing in advance how you’ll manage your own boundaries will do wonders for your mental health and allow you to interact with your teammates without becoming defensive or offensive.


Working from home, you had to adapt to a new set of distractions. Kids, pets, deliveries, and a whole new workspace all took getting used to.

Expect the same when you go back to the office.

Sure, you’ve been there before, but not like this. 

As much as you can, anticipate that your mind will spot all kinds of brand-new things to fixate on. A colleague not wearing their mask (or wearing it on their chin), lunch room banter, and a floor plan where any unexpected sound will throw you for a loop will all take their toll.

Rules will slip. People will get too close. Remember that this isn’t about those social media “gotchas” when someone doesn’t wear their PPE.

Expect this. Take a moment to breathe. And know ahead of time what your boundaries are and when to take action. 

For instance, you might decide not to obsess over A and B, but if C happens and you feel truly unsafe, you’ll take action. This could mean going to management not necessarily to rat out your neighbor but to volunteer by joining a committee that’s shaping the COVID-19 safety policy.

The point is, know what you can control, and what you can’t. And be prepared to take action when necessary so that you aren’t just left steaming over something.

You are in control of your own actions and no one else’s. Everything else is just mental clutter, getting between you and what actually matters.

Understand the difference between keeping yourself safe, and worrying for worry’s sake. Don’t let a fixation on the rules distract you from your work.


The move to working from home was legitimately traumatizing for some. Even the most introverted among us missed having at least some in-person interaction. And without a break from the kids, parents had too much.

As we come back together, it’s important to acknowledge our deep need for connection.

Yes, we want to stay productive and minimize distractions. But that doesn't mean that we shouldn’t prioritize some social time, too.

After all, offices exist for many reasons: speedier communication, improved understanding, and team cohesiveness, to name just a few.

Ultimately, working together in person and in a community satisfies a deep need for human connection.

So when you do go back, make sure you carve out time to enjoy the company of your co-workers. You might try walking meetings outside to get the blood flowing, discuss a project, AND reduce risk. Or you could even plan a (careful) party to connect and blow off steam. Mask-erade, anyone?

Think about the things that brought your team together before the pandemic, and get creative about safe versions you can bring back. Keep those working relationships strong and healthy—even if you do it from a distance.


Returning to the office, expect things to look and feel different. 

Whether you’re excited or nervous—or maybe a bit of both—take the time to plan ahead for what really is a major shift.

Not everyone will share your priorities or your boundaries. Tell others what you need to feel safe, early and often.

Don’t let “monkey mind” distract you from the real work to be done. Learn to recognize when your brain is just spinning its wheels, versus a legitimate cause for concern.

Your physical space isn’t always under your control, but your mindset is. 

Less mental clutter means less anxiety, less stress, and more time for what matters most.

Breathe, and take appropriate action.

Above all, be intentional about maintaining what’s best about the office—the human connection we’ve been missing.

The 5-Day De-Stress Your Mess Challenge is happening RIGHT NOW. But don’t worry—it’s not too late to join in! The same mindset shifts that are important to bring back to your office are just as important at home, and that, along with all the major clutter hotspots, are what we’ll be tackling in this challenge. So if you’re ready for more, sign up here now before it’s too late!

Declutter Your Life Podcast by Andrew Mellen. Available on iTunes!