How to support workers with return to work culture shock.

Think back to when we were able to go on holiday: it always takes a few days to adjust to your surroundings and get used to your new routine. Then, when you go home, it also usually takes a few days to get back to normal.

This same principle applies to the experience many officers workers have had over the past year with working in their physical office, then adjusting to working from home again, then getting used to being back in the office once more. 

As with any change or disruption to routine, your employees may be feeling anxious, nervous and worried. In some cases employees may have developed mild agoraphobia and ‘FOGO’. In fact, they may be dealing with feelings of culture shock as they return back to the office.

What is culture shock?

Culture shock is described as the impact of moving from a familiar culture to one which is unfamiliar. It can occur for people who have travelled abroad to work, live or study and even on holiday. It can be caused by the change in climate, food, language, dress, social roles, rules of behaviour and values. 

It is clear that this idea can be applied to the process of returning to a physical office: your surroundings change, you need to think about what you’re going to take with you for lunch, you can’t wear your pyjamas until midday, and you have to interact with others face to face again.

Culture shock in depth.

The four stages of culture shock are typically known as:

1. Honeymoon

Everything is new and exciting - your employees are pleased to be getting back into their routine again, and can’t wait to see their colleagues in real life

2. Frustration

The office isn’t the same as employees remember it being - there are one way systems, desks have moved, they have to wake up an hour earlier than they’re used to 

3. Adjustment

Frustrations wane as employees begin to feel more familiar and comfortable with all the different aspects of returning to the office - they get used to the new systems, their early alarm is now the norm, and the way of working is more established.

4. Acceptance

This can take weeks or months but eventually employees come to accept their new reality. They have the familiarity and resources to be comfortable and at ease.

So, what can you do to support employees to reach their acceptance of their new normal?

Top tips for adjusting to culture shock.

It is likely that employees may not be aware that they’ll experience such mixtures of emotion on returning to their physical office. So, you can support your staff by helping them prepare for the change.

1. Kindness is key

Make employees aware that they may feel unsettled at first, and that they need to be kind to themselves. The transition back to office working isn’t going to be easy, and they’re allowed to feel nervous and/or unsettled. Many companies are introducing phased returns to support this transition - coming into the office for two days a week to start with, for example.

2. Establish a new routine early on

Realistically, it’s not going to be nice for anyone to set their alarm earlier than usual. However, encourage employees to stick to a routine when they do return to the office. For example, starting at the same time every day where possible, scheduling in breaks, and scheduling in a lunch break. This routine is likely to help employees readjust.

3. Bring some of home to the office

Speak to your employees and ask what they really loved about working from home. Maybe it was being able to wear a dressing gown all day, turning the radio up to full volume, or being able to put a wash on at lunchtime. Although you probably can’t start a laundrette in your workplace, encourage your employees to bring in that dressing gown if they want, or turn up the office radio. Having a bit of home with them will help make the transition easier.

4. Bring back office traditions

Speak to your employees and ask what they missed most about the office when they were home working, and try to bring it back where safe to do so. It may be the office banter, the free tea and coffee, or the Friday afternoon drinks trolley. If you can introduce something they enjoy early on, they’ll remember why they liked working from the office in the first place.

5. Encourage a sharing culture

Encourage your employees to talk about what they miss about working from home, what they’re enjoying about the office, and how they’d like their office environment to be moving forward. This sharing culture will enable employees to open up, share concerns, and adjust together to the change.

Returning to the office isn’t going to be easy and isn’t going to happen overnight. However, by encouraging open communication and by acknowledging the way employees may be feeling, the transition should be made easier.