In Victoria (Australia) the past week has seen as shift closer to long term COVID normal. The major change has been that larger employers can have staff back onsite at between 50% and 75% capacity.
And, in talking to people like you, as well as friends and family, I want to say...
It is okay to feel nervous about this return to onsite work. Indeed, it is okay to feel anxious about this return to onsite work.
From what I can tell, many (60% of Victorian universities) are expecting all staff – academic, and professional – to be onsite. This means for most working hours of most working days of most working weeks you're expected to be onsite. Even if your role requires zero student contact. Even if your role requires zero resources limited to a physical space. Why? I'm not 100% sure, but my guess is the campus experience. That is, helping the campus feel like a place student wants to be. Helping it feel like a place that is active. Helping the campus feel like a place where something could happen where new lives, careers, and discoveries are made.
This is in contrast to business – big and small. I've heard big banks are doing 3-week rotations. Where you're allowed to go in (not expected) 1 week in 3. And you can only go onsite for 4 of the 5 days. I've heard big telco are expecting as much as 80% of their workforce to NEVER be onsite again. I've heard small and micro businesses shifting their entire model to work-from-home. And, if they want or need face-to-face team meetings, they'll use a local café.
So, back to you. Yes, it is okay to feel nervous or anxious about returning to onsite work. About returning to dealing with people and situations in person. It is another change from what has become the norm – the digital commute. And it is different to what many of your non-academic friends, and family might be doing. It is okay to feel nervous, anxious or even annoyed with the idea of going back into the office or lab, spending hours travelling to and from work. Especially when we have learned that we can do so much of our jobs without being onsite.
And you are not alone in being nervous or anxious. Famous people – sports stars – are saying they feel nervous and anxious about playing in front of large crowds. Things they did without thinking prior to the pandemic.
So, what can you do to help deal with the nerves and anxiety? Have a read of this - especially points 5, and 6.
As leaders, managers, or bosses – you could make sure this nervousness or anxiety is discussed at your next meeting. Show your vulnerability by admitting what you have found and are finding tough. But also allow space and time for your staff to express their views. This is not a case of one being better than the other. It is about being able to express how you feel, and thus making things easier to deal with.
As students, ECRs or PostDocs – know that others are going through the same as you. They found the transition to working from home hard. And now, they are finding the transition to working from the office hard. If you feel up to it, let others know how you are going. Ask them how they are going. Maybe even set up a temporary or short-lived support group/meeting where you discuss the transitions to work from the office. Maybe you even decide to phase in your working from the office. Starting with 1 day per week, and then adding in a day each week.
Good luck. Let me know how it goes. And remember, I'm here if you need or want help. And there are many other services around that can provide help too. These include:
- Black Dog Institute - https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/
- Beyond Blue - https://www.beyondblue.org.au/
- Life line – 13 11 14
- Resilience project - https://theresilienceproject.com.au/
- Your graduate school.
- Your research office.
- The union.
- Your professional association.
Dr Richard Huysmans is the author of Connect the Docs: A Guide to getting industry partners for academics. He has helped more than 200 PhD students, early career researchers, and established academics build their careers. He has provided strategic advice on partnering with industry, growing a career building new centres and institutes as well as establishing new programs. Richard is driven by the challenge of helping researchers be commercially smart. His clients appreciate his cut-through approach. He knows the sector and how to turn ideas into reality.
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