As summer comes to an end and children return to school, the fall season brings inevitable changes to daily routines. With many organizations reopening their offices after months of shutdowns, the transition might be more challenging for virtual workers and their families. 

“Some have been really comfortable working from home and maybe stressed and anxious about commuting and working with others,” says Katharine Coons, national workplace mental health specialist at Canadian Mental Health Association in Toronto. “On the flip side, there are people who are excited and can’t wait to get back to their workplaces.”

Planning in advance can play a big part in alleviating the stress of returning to the post-lockdown workplace. Here are some pointers that can help you ease into your new daily routine.

1. UNDERSTAND YOUR EMPLOYER’S PLAN 

“Make sure you familiarize yourself with the plan at your office and are comfortable with it,” says Coons. “Be aware of what is offered and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Is there flexibility in scheduling? Can I choose what days I can come in?”

Don’t be afraid to talk to managers about making adjustments on your return. “If it’s a commute thing, tell them you might start later when it’s less busy,” she says. “Communications with management are very important.”

Mark Hale, a financial associate at ScotiaMcLeod in Oakville, Ont., spent part of 2020 on parental leave before switching to a virtual work schedule. Now, he comes to the office two days a week, but that could change over time. “The company has been proactive in terms of flexibility,” he says. “It may not be traditional 9 to 5; those who commute might work 10 to 6. Whatever the combination, it’s all very open.”

2. RETHINK YOUR ROUTINE

As they ease back into the workplace, Hale and his wife, a business manager who has been finalizing her CPA certification, are already in the process of resetting their daily schedules for the coming fall and winter months.

“It will mean a whole new way of doing things, especially when our daughter starts daycare in December,” he says. “There’s a lot to figure out, such as establishing new routines for drop offs and pickups, managing transit, having everything in order for the start of each day, and setting timelines for beginning and ending the workday.”

3. KEEP THINGS ORGANIZED AT HOME 

Catch up on any outstanding items around the house before adding new challenges. This could mean anything from household chores and home improvement projects, to catching up on laundry, paying bills and decluttering your spaces at home. “Checking off that list will help you feel like you’ve accomplished something,” says Coons. 

Maintaining a good work-life balance will also be key, Hale adds. “There will be fixed times when our laptops can be opened and times when they can’t.”

4. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE 

Practicing your new daily routines now will help you be better prepared for the fall. For example, if you’re anxious about having to take public transit again, Coons suggests taking a smaller, shorter test run before you start back at the office. “You have to work that muscle again to feel comfortable versus having to do everything at once on the same day,” she says.

5. STAY HEALTHY

Make sure you are doing everything you can to stay healthy, well-rested, and stress-free. “A lot of anxiety happens when you think about the future,” says Coons. “Take the time to connect with yourself. Give yourself a minute each day to breathe and ground yourself at the moment.”

Everyone in your household should also be getting back to a regular sleeping routine. Prepare ingredients ahead of time so you can quickly put dinner together. And don’t forget to stock up on healthy treats and lunch items for the kids.

The Hales are keeping their automated fruit and vegetable delivery schedule from Fresh City Farms, which they started during the pandemic to ensure they maintain a healthy diet. “We’re also trying our best to be in bed by a certain time every night including weekends, so we can keep our routine in order,” says Hale.

6. ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE

A lot of us have become comfortable working from home and have been building up the return to work in our heads, Coons notes. “But remember there are a lot of things you have missed that comes with working in person,” she says. “Connecting with colleagues is important to your health and well-being, so try your best to bring a positive attitude when you return to work.”