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When you’ve gotten used to working from home, office life can be a shock to the system. Gone are the days of shuffling to your desk in pajamas and taking work calls in underwear. Instead of knocking out loads of laundry and walking the dog in between emails, you’re now slogging through a stressful commute (and spending way too much cash on coffee and lunch).
Of course, there are upsides. What you lose in freedom — setting your schedule, running midday errands, keeping the thermostat set to your preferred temperature — you might be gaining in financial security. And while you’ll have to deal with annoying co-workers and thorny office politics, there’s something to be said for the collaborative environment that an office can provide. In fact, researchers have found that a face-to-face request can be as effective as sending 34 email requests, meaning you might be more productive now that you can pop over to a co-worker’s desk and ask in person for whatever you need.
Whether or not the trade-off is worth it, though, depends on the person who’s making it. Here, professionals from across the country share what they wish they’d known about going back to an office after working from home — the pain points, the perks, the strategies they used to acclimate to their new routines.
Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
You might need a new wardrobe…
“This is going to sound stupid, but I wish I’d consulted with a stylist and gotten a look together that I could pull off on a regular basis. Working from home, I really lose all sense of what people wear, even in a casual setting. My idea of office attire is 20 years out of date, and 20 years too young for me.”
— Marta Segal Block, 49, communications director for a nonprofit in the Chicago area
… or at least a sweater.
“Not being in charge of the temperature was a big change. When I worked from home, I sat right next to a space heater. In the office, although I am sure that it’s a perfectly normal temperature, I struggled. I brought a blanket and a sweater to keep at my desk. I dressed in many layers, even when it was summer. I could add on multiple clothing layers indoors, and then, when it was time to go home into the 100-degree weather, I would get rid of four layers. I wish that I had been faster to figure things out, rather than freezing.”
— Anne-Marie Hays, 31, marketer, Pleasant Grove, Utah
It will get easier to set boundaries between work and personal life.
“There are definitely benefits to working in an office that I had taken for granted before working from home. For example, I feel like a spend my working hours more productively in an office setting. And it’s nice to socialize and have face-to-face human contact on a daily basis. It also has made my home life more relaxing, because I can now easily define a clear point to where work stops and starts.”
— Anthony Antonicello, 30, business development manager, Atlanta, GA
There will be constant distractions.
“My biggest challenge was the distraction of everyone talking to me while trying to get my work done. I was so excited to have co-workers that the moment anyone asked me a question or made a remark, I was delighted to talk, usually without end — which of course resulted in me not getting my work done. It took me a few weeks to realize that I was spending my entire day gabbing rather than doing my work, but I was just so excited to be social.”
— Abigail Conger, 31, marketing account director at Emergence Creative, New York City
“The greatest challenge to an office setting is also the greatest benefit: the constant distraction of colleagues wanting to collaborate and brainstorm. In animal rescue, there are inherently a lot of emergencies that require me to drop everything I’m doing and jump in to literally save a life at a moment’s notice. When I returned to an office setting, I had to refine my ability to always be prioritizing the most important task, and to re-prioritize several times throughout the day as new needs arose. I wish I had anticipated the number of distractions and had tricks to deal with them. Now, when I’m working with a tight deadline and can’t take on anything else that isn’t a true emergency, I use earphones to pretend I’m listening to music and can’t hear the chaos happening around me.”
— Andee Bingham, 39, editorial and grants manager at Brother Wolf Animal Rescue, Asheville, NC
“The challenge for me was the slowing of production and the unnecessary interruptions throughout the day. In my own space, I am very aware that every hour has a price that it cost me to be engaged with it, but in the office environment, that seems to be less so. Meetings are postponed, changed, or redirected without concern for project creep costs.”
— Sweetie Berry, 54, content strategist and content developer, Alabama
The office layout matters.
“When I was working for myself, I had the freedom and flexibility to work anytime, anywhere. If I wanted to sleep in until 10 a.m., I could! If I wanted to catch a flight to Europe and work from a cafe in France, I did! Working for ‘the man’ again requires me to be in a bland cubicle for eight hours a day, five days per week. I have no say when or where I work anymore. I wish I hadn’t picked a job in a cubicle. Maybe the transition would have been easier if I had gone with an agency that had an open work space environment and flextime.”
— Stephanie Weaver, 34, writer, Philadelphia, PA
You’ll need a new strategy for getting outside things done.
“I wish I had really considered how much of change it would be to no longer have a lunch hour at home to easily run an errand, go to a doctor’s appointment, or throw in a load of laundry. Although it’s made me have to be more vigilant in terms of planning those logistics, the flexibility to pick up the slack on my own time, in my own home — or run to my kids’ school for little events during the day, although I only have one in elementary school now — is something I really miss.”
— Amanda Bergman, 39, online editor, New Jersey
“I’m six months into returning to an office, and now I have most things scheduled to work around my self-designated office working time. I’ve also stopped doing some things that were not necessary, like keeping the house perfectly clean and cooking more complex meals. I’ve concentrated home repairs and errands to the weekend, simplified my weekday chores and meals, and moved my socializing to weeknights and weekends. It’s working much better for me.”
— Laura Barta, age 56, founder and president of Whole Wide World Toys, Hershey, Pennsylvania
Mornings won’t be as relaxing.
“My routine is completely upended now that I need to dedicate three hours a day for transportation on days I need to go into the office. The hardest part about commuting to work is the stress involved with driving through rush hour traffic and needing to make sure I get to the train on time. But so long as I have my coffee in the morning, I can tolerate the commute.”
— David Reischer, 44, attorney and entrepreneur, New York City