Twelve Things to Do before Going Back into the Office

We’ve been in various forms of lock-down and physical isolation for nearly two months. And, in Victoria (Australia) at least, we appear to be coming towards the last stages of the strictest forms of physical isolation. Returning to work in the office, seems not far off.

So, here are my tips for the return to work. For PhD students (and same lab heads) you might find you can ignore tips 1 – 3, as you didn’t do those before isolation…

1. Look in the mirror. Literally, take a mirror, and have a good look. Is this the face, beard, hair, etc., that you want to have while at work? Thanks to the wonders of Zoom, we’ve all looked touched up on video. But no, in person, we won’t have that. Or, perhaps you’ve grown an iso beard. Or maybe you’ve let your hair grow, or colour grow out.

2. Get dressed. For some, this will be quite a literal request. You’ve been wearing PJs since told to work from home. For others, this is more about getting dressed in your work clothes. I know some people have managed to lose weight while in isolation. But for the rest of us, we’ve probably put on weight. Or at the very least, changed shape. So, grab your work clothes out, and try them on.

3. Combine 1, and 2. Use a full length mirror to make sure you look how you want for work. And if it is now what you want, then, make a change.

4. Get into a routine. Although so much of the working-from-home advice starts with being in good routine, I’m pretty sure that’s gone out the window. So, in preparation for returning to work at work, try to get into a good sleeping routine. Bed at a reasonable hour, waking up at a time close to when you’d need to be up in order to commute to work. From there, you can add in the actual work bit – starting at 9, finishing at 5. Force the issue. If not, your return to the office will just be working longer hours. And no one wants that.

5. Be prepared to say NO. The fact that you can work from home, does not mean you should. There are so many benefits to being in the office. Serendipitous interactions, proximity to key people and equipment, workstation set up, and cost of maintaining the office. So, if you are asked to work from home more often, be prepared to say no. I’m not saying you should say no, I’m saying be prepared to. Think it through before immediately saying yes. Perhaps even consider what a partial work from home situation might look like.

6. Be prepared ask to work from home. The fact you may have worked the last 6 weeks from home may mean nothing to many employers, and bosses. So, if you’re expecting to just be allowed to work from home, think again. Be prepared to have to ask for it to happen. And to have to justify why. As I wrote at point 5, there are lots of good reasons to keep people coming into the office. And having a team that is spread between home, and work may not be what your boss or employer wants.

Returning to work after

isolation – don’t assume

working from work will be easy.

7. Make sure your ride to work is operational. You’ve not travelled into the office for a while now. Across Victoria there have been road, rail, and tram works that might have changed your route. Not to mention works to bike paths as well. But, other than the route to work, also confirm the timetable is the same. If you’re driving in, check that the car starts (especially if you have not driven it for several weeks). Confirm the tyres are properly inflated. Same if you’re using your bike. Don’t forget to check you have enough petrol (it is cheap now due to a range of factors, not all related to COVID-19). And make sure your public transport ticket is topped up.

8. Remember what you learnt from COVID-19. Physical isolation is REALLY effective at stopping communicable diseases. So, if you are sick, stay home. Who cares, if it might be COVID-19 or not. Staying home, washing your hands, covering your mouth and nose if you sneeze or cough – these are all things we should be doing to keep clean. Continue to do them independent of COVID-19. If you must work, you know it is possible to do so from home.

9. Pay attention to your pets. During isolation they got so much attention! And now, when we all head back into work that attention will be absent. So, try to remember that when they go back to digging or barking or crying all day/night when you’re not around. And for those into keeping pet sour dough starters – remember to look after them too.

10. Thank researchers, schoolteachers, and health care workers. As a parent, you’ve probably had a crash course in teaching your child. You’ve probably come to realise what a hard task it is – and that’s when you’re 1-1 with your child. Now, imagine a classroom of 15, or 20 or even 25. Thank your teachers – THANK YOU, TEACHERS! And, while you’re at it, thank your local health care workers – THANK YOU, HEALTH CARE WORKERS! You’ve helped us deal with the worst of COVID-19. And, of course, thank the researchers too – THANK YOU, RESEACHERS! You’ve helped us avoid the worst of COVID-19.

11. Pack your bag. You’ve probably taken a range of things from the office to home. I heard people took chairs, tables, weights as well as the usual pens, paper, and computers. So, make sure you make a list of what needs to go back to work, and pack it. It’d be a real shame to go in on your first day, only to realise you left your chair, desk or computer at home.

12. Don’t expect to be productive straight away. Just like the transition from work to home impacted your productivity, so too will the switch back. If nothing else, the change in routine will probably make you more tired that you expect.


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.

To find out more, call 0412 606 178, email (Richard.huysmans@drrichardhuysmans.com) or subscribe to the newsletter. He’s on LinkedIn (Dr Richard Huysmans), Twitter (@richardhuysmans), Instagram (@drrichardhuysmans), and Facebook (Beyond Your PhD with Dr Richard Huysmans).