Are you ready to return to the office?

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While some people are still working remotely, many businesses are implementing plans to bring employees back to the office to work. Though this move may be optional for some, others may find the return to an office space is mandatory. There may also be mandatory safety measures put into place, like masking or getting a vaccine before coming back to work.

Anxiety, fear and stress are all common feelings about returning to work while the pandemic continues. Uncertainty about the future, being in close proximity to coworkers and the public and nervousness about interacting with others in person after over a year of isolation can further drive anxiety. But with a well-thought-out and clearly defined plan, you can be ready to transition from remote to in-office work again soon.

In this article:

Remote vs. in-office

For those sent home to work when the COVID pandemic hit, the work-from-home life has become their new normal. While some are looking forward to going back to what they consider normal, in-office work, those who have benefited from working at home may find returning to the office challenging.

Pros of working from home

In a recent poll Bankrate commissioned from YouGov, 89% of the 2,695 surveyed adults working from home saw at least one pro, or benefit, to the change from in-office work to remote work. Half of the respondents said making a permanent remote work change offered them more freedom throughout the workday. Other pros of working from home are:

  • More time spent with family
  • Getting more sleep
  • Improved mental health
  • Lower living expenses

While saving money is a pro of working from home, it does not beat out the personal, but less tangible, benefits of no longer commuting to and working in the office.

Cons of working from home

Not everyone surveyed saw benefits from working from home. For 79%, working from home during any part of the pandemic after working in the office had at least one con. The largest disadvantage of working at home for these individuals is the lack of coworker interaction. Other cons of working from home include:

  • More distractions and decreased productivity
  • Not as much opportunity for pay raises and promotions
  • Negative mental health effects
  • Not having as much opportunity to use or get vacation days

Of those surveyed, 10% say they are less likely to stay in their job if it were changed permanently to working from home.

Will employers require you to return to office?

Some employees have already been required to return to the office, while others wait for their employers to make the announcement. With few exceptions, employers can require employees to return to the office. Of course, with a global pandemic still in full effect, reasonable accommodations must be made for everyone’s safety.

These accommodations may vary by company, but some measures employers are using to make in-office work possible are:

  • Mask requirements
  • Social distancing
  • Vaccine mandates
  • COVID testing
  • Frequent and thorough hand washing
  • Developing policies and procedures for employee reporting and monitoring of COVID-19 symptoms

With clearly outlined workplace flexibility and protections in place, those hesitant to return to in-office work can feel protected and safe.

Preparing for returning to office

Whether you enjoy working from home or are ready to return to an office setting, many companies prepare employees to return to work. While the Delta variant has postponed some employers’ return to work plans, others have already been back to work or are still moving forward to implement plans for a safe return to the workplace. As you prepare to get back into the routine of going to the office to work, putting your own plan into place can help make the transition easier.

Health safety

Even if you are fully vaccinated, you may still get sick and spread the Delta or other COVID variants. For this reason, it is still advised to continue practicing safety guidelines when possible, especially in public spaces where there is the potential for substantial or high transmission. It is also essential to follow policies or procedures put in place by your employer if you are called back to the office.

Here are some COVID prevention tips you can use in the workplace:

  • Keep hand sanitizer at your desk and use it as needed.
  • Continue wearing a mask according to CDC guidance, especially when around others.
  • Wash your hands often, and avoid touching your eyes, mouth and nose without washing your hands.
  • Avoid close contact by maintaining at least six feet of distance between yourself and others.
  • Stay home if you are sick and report any symptoms to your employer.
  • If you have to sneeze or cough, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue to prevent spreading germs to others.

Commuting

Returning to work means commuting to and from the office again. Whether you are dreading the commute or ready to get back out there, the time to ease back into it starts now. Consider using a practice day to see how long your commute takes now, and be sure to get on a schedule to re-establish your in-office routine after so much time in work-from-home mode. Here are some other tips to consider before you resume your commute to the office.

Update auto insurance

When working from home during the pandemic, you may not have had to do as much driving. Suppose you let your car insurance lapse or reduced your auto insurance coverage to reflect your lack of a daily commute to the office. In that case, you might want to update your policy before your commute begins again. Ensure you have valid insurance with the right amount of coverage in place to protect yourself and your finances as you get back to navigating the roads. If you are unsure about what changes might be needed, contact your insurance company.

Car safety checklist

You might also want to revisit any plans you previously had in case you have an incident on the road. In case of an emergency, you should have the following items in your car at all times:

  • Car jack and spare tire
  • Jumper cables
  • Flares or reflective triangles
  • Window breaker/seatbelt cutter in case you are in an accident
  • Flashlight
  • Car phone charger

Mental wellness

While some may be struggling to maintain a proper work-life balance while working from home, just the idea of returning to the office is enough to give some employees anxiety. Fear, stress and anxiety can harm your mental wellness, making returning to the office much harder. By employing proven tips to calm your anxiety, you can make your transition back to the office smoother by creating a favorable environment mentally and physically.

Consider practicing these mental wellness tips from the CDC to return to the workplace:

  • Take plenty of breaks throughout the day.
  • Take sick or vacation days as needed.
  • Meditate, practice mindfulness and take part in activities like tai chi and yoga to reduce stress and improve relaxation.
  • Review the policies and procedures for returning to the office so you can anticipate the changes without getting overwhelmed.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Get a good night’s sleep of 7 to 8 hours per night.

Most importantly, discuss your plans for a safe return to work, both mentally and physically, with your manager. Making them aware of potential challenges could allow you to work together to achieve a smooth transition back to office life.

State-by-state return to office guidelines

Each state has different rules and regulations to help guide the return of the workforce to the office, and Bankrate has provided a link to your state’s guidelines.

State Return to office guidelines
AL https://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/covid19/assets/cov-sah-businesses.pdf
AK https://doa.alaska.gov/dop/fileadmin/DirectorsOffice/COVID19messages/Return_to_Worksite_Policy.pdf
AZ https://azgovernor.gov/sites/default/files/requirements_for_businesses_0.pdf
AR https://www.healthy.arkansas.gov/programs-services/topics/covid-19-health-guidances
CA https://saferatwork.covid19.ca.gov/
CO https://covid19.colorado.gov/guidance-for-businesses-communities
CT https://business.ct.gov/Recovery/Keeping-Your-Business-Safe/Businesses-COVID-19-Guidelines-for-Employees?language=en_US
DC https://coronavirus.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/coronavirus/page_content/attachments/Best_Practices_Operations_DCHealth_COVID-19_Guidance_2021.5.28.pdf
DE https://laborfiles.delaware.gov/export/news/Return_to_Work_Guidelines_During_COVID-19.pdf
FL https://floridahealthcovid19.gov/businesses/
GA https://dph.georgia.gov/covid-19-businesses-and-employers
HI https://health.hawaii.gov/coronavirusdisease2019/files/2021/05/COVID-19-Return-to-Work-School-Guidance-05142021.pdf
ID https://dhr.idaho.gov/covid-19-workforce-guidance/
IL https://dph.illinois.gov/covid19/community-guidance/workplace-health-and-safety-guidance/employee-employer-rights-and-safety
IN https://www.backontrack.in.gov/files/BackOnTrack-IN_BackOnTrack-IN_Guidelines-AllBusinesses.pdf
IA https://idph.iowa.gov/Emerging-Health-Issues/Novel-Coronavirus/Guidance
KS https://www.admin.ks.gov/docs/default-source/coronavirus/guidance-delta-july-29-2021.pdf?sfvrsn=dec293c7_2
KY https://chfs.ky.gov/agencies/dph/covid19/Recommended%20Minimum%20Guidance.pdf
LA https://www.revenue.louisiana.gov/Miscellaneous/COVID-19_BusinessGuidance%20(03.04.2020).pdf
MA https://www.mass.gov/doc/return-to-work-guidance-updated-march-8-2021/download
MD https://mhec.maryland.gov/Documents/2020%20Covid-19%20for%20Public%20Presentations_05132020_Reopen4.pdf
ME https://www.maine.gov/labor/docs/2020/COVID-19Resources.pdf
MI https://www.michigan.gov/documents/leo/leo_miosha_c19_workplace_guidelines_employer_690397_7.pdf
MN https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/guidebusiessential.pdf
MO https://health.mo.gov/living/healthcondiseases/communicable/novel-coronavirus/prevention.php
MS https://msdh.ms.gov/msdhsite/_static/resources/15099.pdf
MT https://hr.mt.gov/Return-to-Worksite-Stage-3-Guidance.pdf
NC https://files.nc.gov/ncoshr/OSHR-COVID-19-Safe-Return-To-Worksites-Guidance.pdf
ND https://www.health.nd.gov/cdc-guidance-workplaces-and-businesses
NE https://dhhs.ne.gov/Documents/COVID-19%20Guidance%20to%20Public%20and%20Testing.pdf
NH https://www.covidguidance.nh.gov/sites/g/files/ehbemt381/files/files/inline-documents/guidance-universal.pdf
NJ https://www.nj.gov/labor/assets/PDFs/returntowork_guidelines.pdf
NM https://www.dws.state.nm.us/portals/0/dm/business/Guidance_Return_to_Work_COVID-19_.pdf
NV https://gov.nv.gov/uploadedFiles/govnewnvgov/Content/News/Press/2020_attachments/RoadmapToRecovery-Phase2GuidanceNoLinksVF.pdf
NY https://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/offices-interim-guidance.pdf
OH https://coronavirus.ohio.gov/static/responsible/Responsible-Protocols.pdf
OK https://oklahoma.gov/content/dam/ok/en/covid19/images/031720_employers_guidance_eng.pdf
OR https://osha.oregon.gov/OSHARules/adopted/2021/May4SummaryOfKeyCOVID19RuleIssues-ao2-2021.pdf
PA https://www.oa.pa.gov/returningtowork/Documents/employee-returning-work-guide.pdf
RI https://covid.ri.gov/public/workplaces
SC https://scdhec.gov/sites/default/files/media/document/Business-COVID-guidance%20FINAL-3272020.pdf
SD https://covid.sd.gov/docs/COVID_SDPlan_BackToNormal.pdf
TN https://covid19.tn.gov/business-resources/returning-to-the-workplace/
TX https://www.tdi.texas.gov/news/2020/dwc03302020.html
UT https://coronavirus-download.utah.gov/business/COVID-19_Business_Packet_FIN.pdf
VA https://www.governor.virginia.gov/media/governorvirginiagov/governor-of-virginia/pdf/May-15-2021-Forward-Virginia-Guidelines.pdf
VT https://humanservices.vermont.gov/sites/ahsnew/files/Return%20to%20Worksite%20Guidance.pdf
WA https://www.governor.wa.gov/issues/issues/covid-19-resources/covid-19-reopening-guidance
WI https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/publications/p02787.pdf
WV https://dhhr.wv.gov/COVID-19/Documents/Guidance-for-Businesses-and-Employers.pdf
WY https://health.wyo.gov/publichealth/infectious-disease-epidemiology-unit/disease/novel-coronavirus/covid-19-orders-and-guidance/

Frequently asked questions

Can you take time off work for burnout?

Every job has different requirements, but for your well-being, you might want to take time off work to prevent burnout. Stress leave is a real thing, and with so many variables involved in returning to the office during a global pandemic, employers should prioritize their employees’ mental health if they want to keep them. That said, not every company will operate that way. Setting expectations with your manager before returning to the office could help you both navigate the situation better if you find you need some time off.

What are signs of burnout?

There are several physical, emotional and behavioral signs of burnout. Feeling drained and tired most of the time, getting frequent headaches and a change in sleep habits or appetite are physical signs of burnout. Emotional signs include detachment, feelings of helplessness, being trapped or defeated, loss of motivation, an increasing negative outlook and decreased satisfaction. Using alcohol, drugs or food to cope, taking out frustrations on others, isolating yourself and procrastinating or taking longer to do things are behavioral signs of burnout.

How do I tell my boss I need a leave of absence?

If you need to tell your boss you need a leave of absence, you should first do some research to understand what legal rights you have for time off and pay at your company and in your state. Make the request in person, and, if possible, give advance notice. Keep track of any relevant paperwork and work with your employer to create a plan you both agree on about your absence and return to work.

Can an employer not let you call in sick?

Depending on where you live and the employer, they can not let you call in sick or force you to use paid time off in order to do so. However, during a global pandemic in which you could have COVID and spread it to others, most employers are following CDC and OSHA guidance by encouraging employees to stay home when they feel sick, especially if they are exhibiting COVID symptoms. You will probably want to take some time to understand your company’s rules and guidelines around calling in sick prior to returning to the office.

Can your boss deny you a mental health day?

Whether your boss can deny you a mental health day is dependent on your state, company and its time-off policy. If you have a diagnosed mental health condition, you are protected by the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). With so many being afflicted with mental health symptoms because of the pandemic, many companies are rethinking their employee assistance programs to help those transitioning back to the office and in need of mental health accommodations. But again, take some time to understand your company’s guidelines so you know what to expect before returning to the office.

Written by
Mandy Sleight
Insurance Contributor
Mandy Sleight has been a licensed insurance agent since 2005. She has three years of experience writing for insurance websites such as Bankrate.com, MoneyGeek and The Simple Dollar. Mandy writes about auto, homeowners, renters, life insurance, disability and supplemental insurance products.
Edited by
Insurance Editor