For most people, the end of the lockdown seems like the light at the end of the tunnel. But while some are busy celebrating the return to normal (regardless of what “normal” looks like for them), others are stuck trying to cope with something entirely different—a strong sense of anxiety over returning to the office.
It’s no secret that the modern workplace and, some would argue, the whole world is geared toward extroverts. After all, you needn’t go further than Susan Cain’s TED talk to be reminded of the amount of pressure we tend to put on people to be ”outgoing,” “communicative,” and “team players.” (Susan Cain is also the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, a must-read for both introverted individuals and anyone working with them.)
But what does that pressure amount to for more indrawn professionals? And what does it mean for introverted developers returning to the office full-time after COVID-19?
Whether you’re a programmer who prefers to be alone or a person employing a diverse workforce, knowing how to address the challenges of the modern workplace makes for an essential skill in today’s world. Particularly so if your experience (or that of your team) involves anxiety over the upcoming return to the office.
So without further ado, let’s talk about making the shift from working from home (WFH) to full-time office work. Here are a few tips on making this shift as seamless and stress-free as possible.
Sentiments About Remote vs. On-Site Work
Unsurprisingly, when the move toward WFH happened in March 2020, there was a lot of pushback from organizations. With limited control over employee performance and a host of obstacles that come with restructuring, leaders struggled to set up systems that would allow their companies to keep up with business as usual.
Still, remote work wasn’t anything new (or challenging) for professional developers. Most programmers already had some experience with WFH prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. And as much as 7% of IT workers had already spent 10 years working remotely before 2020.
However, as the world powered through lockdown (and its many iterations), organizations became accustomed to the idea of remote work. In fact, WFH went so well that a significant portion of employers and employees expressed wishes to continue the practice after the pandemic is over.
Nonetheless, there is still a large portion of business owners wanting to get back to on-site work. And for developers who found themselves thriving in a remote setting, this doesn’t exactly come as good news.
Now, their preference for WFH might stem from an introverted personality or practical reasons like managing a medical condition that’s easier to do from home, or a combination of both. Either way, the only way to handle this situation is to develop a healthy approach toward returning to the office. And the first step toward doing that is definitely going to be a period of introspection, which will enable them to identify the cause of their anxiety.
Fears About Returning to the Office
A survey published by McKinsey looked into the fears and anxieties related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The results are telling in regard to why people feel uneasy about returning to on-site work. According to the data, the most common fears people had about returning to the office included
- a poor work-life balance (45% of survey participants).
- an increased chance of getting sick (44% of people).
- a decreased focus on well-being (42% of workers).
- loss of flexibility and control (39% of professionals).
Of course, it’s important to remember that any individual feeling anxious about returning to their office likely has a set of reasons for feeling the way they do. Still, the four main points listed in the McKinsey report act as a great starting point. Because, ultimately, the best way to deal with anxiety (about anything) is to identify its triggers.
So if you’re an introverted developer anxious about the upcoming change in scenery, try to stop and think. What is it that’s making you feel uneasy about on-site work?
Is it that you’re concerned about your health? Are you afraid of losing control over your time and physical setting? Or is it that you know that you work better without the distractions of the office, that you feel exhausted by water cooler chat, or that you’re simply more productive doing your job from home?
Once you have a clear idea of what’s worrying you, it’s time to start addressing your feelings of overwhelming concern.
Controlling Circumstances and Drawing Boundaries
According to scientific research, uncertainty makes for one of the leading triggers of anxiety. The reason for this is that it diminishes our capability of managing future situations. With this in mind, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that people feel uneasy about returning to the office during these challenging times.
Sure, changing work settings means that each person will have to give up some amount of control over their physical surroundings. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll have to do things that clash with their personality type. On the contrary, it means that they will have to find a way to control the things they can and accept those they can’t. In other words, it means drawing clear boundaries.
For example, you might be feeling anxious about returning to the office because you identify as an introvert. You do your best work when you’re alone, or you feel uncomfortable with social distractions. If that’s the case, you will inevitably have to adapt to being with large groups of people again.
That doesn’t have to mean sacrificing your comfort. Instead, it means having to define the things you’re willing to tolerate and finding solutions to those you’re not. For example, that might be using noise-canceling headphones to drown out distracting office chit-chat or learning how to network when you’re naturally shy.
But if you find that your anxiety stems from something more deeply rooted, like being unhappy with your current career path or a toxic company culture at your place of work, then you’ll probably have to make more dramatic changes. And these changes could mean accepting that your current workplace might not be it for you.
Mitigating the Effects of Anxiety
One of the main things to keep in mind about dealing with anxiety as a programmer (regardless of its cause) is that it isn’t just a constant feeling of worry. When left untreated, it can also have serious long-term health consequences. These can include
- an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease.
- a causal link to gastrointestinal disorders.
- weakened immune function.
- an increased risk of depression.
- possible cognitive impediments like decreased memory function.
The problem for introverted developers, however, is that they’re naturally more inclined toward anxiety. Moreover, due to their withdrawn nature, they may struggle with reaching out to their peers to ask for help. If you feel like you fall into this group of people, the best thing you can do is start paying closer attention to self-care.
For one, this means adopting the elementary habits of a healthy lifestyle. Try getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and engaging in physical activity on a regular basis.
Secondly, an anxious person’s self-care routine should include stress-managing and relaxation techniques. Whether it’s meditating, learning mindfulness from a book like Declutter Your Mind, doing breathing exercises, keeping a diary, or taking up a hobby, these activities should provide a respite and distraction from the worries causing the anxiety attacks.
Lastly (and perhaps most importantly), an effective anxiety-management routine should include some form of therapy. Some people may feel more comfortable discussing their feelings with friends. Others, however, will prefer the help of a professional.
If you’re in this situation, know that whichever of these two options you choose, you’re sure to find that talking about your worries will bring relief. Plus, it may help you see returning to the office from a different standpoint, with all its benefits.
Consider Finding a Middle Ground
Right now, you may feel like you’re alone in feeling anxious about returning to the office. But you have to remember that a significant number of people are also navigating the upcoming change along with you. And that means that you’re certainly not the only person having worries and doubts about working as part of a large collective again.
That’s why the best way to cope with your anxiety won’t be to feel guilty about your fears (whether they’re related to socialization, health, or just your routine). Instead, it’s to accept your feelings as they are, for starters. Then try to find effective ways to prevent them from harming your physical and emotional health.
The solution might lie in developing a mindfulness routine, asking your superiors to implement a hybrid work model, or going to therapy. It’s up to you to choose what you think will serve you best.