Going Back to the Office? Do These 10 Things First to Have a Stress-Free Return, Experts Say

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Return-to-office announcements can spur a mix of emotions. You might be excited to see co-workers again, yet anxious about your safety. There's also a lot to think about, things that likely haven't crossed your mind in two years: where to go, what to wear, which route will make for the easiest commute. 

About 50% of leaders say their company already requires or is planning to require employees to return to in-person work full-time in the next year, according to new research from Microsoft, which means that more people will be back in the office in the coming months. 

If your company is requiring you to come in soon, it's important to start preparing for your return at least one week in advance, Anyelis Cordero, a career coach and the founder of Propel On Purpose Coaching, tells CNBC Make It

"It takes time to adjust and get back into a routine that most of us haven't done in two years," she says. "For that first day back, especially, you want to make sure that you have everything you need to make yourself comfortable and feel 100% ready." 

Below, Cordero and organizational psychologist Michael Woodward, who is also a professor of executive coaching at the NYU School of Professional Studies, give their best tips to prepare yourself for returning to the office: 

The week before

Understand the details of your company's return-to-office plan

If your company hasn't sent out detailed RTO guidelines, Woodward recommends emailing your manager or HR representative to find out what the expectations for employees are and any other information you need to ease the transition. 

This includes what days/times you should be in the office, desk arrangements and Covid-19 protocols (masks, vaccine attestations or daily health screenings). 

Ask for any accommodations you might need 

"A lot of people have made adaptations or shifts to their routines, whether it's child care, a new pet, or moving further from the office that they might have to change or undo before returning to the office," Woodward says. 

Employees should be prepared to ask their manager for accommodations that they need to work in an office including coming in late or leaving early for caregiving responsibilities or sitting further away from people due to health concerns. 

Map out your commute (and parking) 

Commutes have changed a lot in the last two years, and you might be surprised how crowded the roads and public transit are as more people return to the office. It's smart to practice your commute at least once before your return, Woodward says, or map out the fastest route so you're not late or lost on the first day. 

Also be sure to ask your employer about the parking situation or pre-tax benefits that could help you save on commuting costs. 

Plan a coffee or lunch date with a co-worker 

You don't want your first day back to be jam-packed with meetings, as you'll need some time to get settled in the office, but scheduling at least one walk, coffee break or lunch date with a co-worker you want to re-connect with can give you something to look forward to.

"We're all wired to spot the negative, so naturally, you're going to have a negative-scanning mindset heading back to the office," Woodward says. "But if you have something on your calendar that you're excited about, it'll put you in a more positive mood." 

The night before

Choose your outfit 

Some companies have relaxed their dress codes in the wake of the pandemic, but Cordero says to check in with an HR representative or ask a trusted co-worker what to wear. 

If all else fails, business casual is a safe bet, and you can find more work outfit ideas here

Pack your work bag 

Double check that you have all the supplies you need — your work badge, wallet, laptop, chargers and anything else — ready to go so you don't waste time looking for it in the morning, Woodward says. 

Cordero also suggests bringing a packed lunch and snacks with you in case the restaurants you frequented before the pandemic have closed or you don't have time to step out of the office for lunch. 

Get to bed early

You want to be your best, well-rested self before reuniting with your boss and co-workers — and if you have a long commute or a lot to do in the office, Cordero promises your body (and mind!) will thank you for the eight hours of rest. 

The morning of

Check the weather forecast and traffic report 

This step should be obvious, and it's one you will regret missing if there's a sudden thunderstorm or accident on the route you planned to take. Cordero advises staying ahead of any last-minute changes to your commute and notifying your boss if you'll need to come in later. 

Relieve stress with a mini meditation or deep-breathing 

Even if you're not thrilled about returning to the office, holding onto negative feelings can cloud the experience. Cordero is a fan of deep-breathing exercises, which can help your body relax and clear the mind. 

Spend five minutes "square breathing": breathe in for four seconds, then hold your breath for four seconds, exhale to a slow count of four, pause for four seconds, then repeat. 

Set an intention 

Before you walk out the door, write down or repeat an intention for how you want to return to the office to set a positive tone for the day. "For example, you might say, "I'm going to meet new people, and I am grateful to have a job to return to,'" Cordero says.

Such statements can help you cope with the uncertainty that surrounds returning to the office. "As individuals, sometimes we have to figure out ways to create our own sense of certainty and reduce the stress that comes with the unknown," Woodward says.  

Check out:

50% of companies want workers back in office 5 days a week–why experts say this strategy could fail

'The evolution of business casual': Here's what to wear if you're returning to the office

These are the 5 most 'boring' — and exciting — jobs in the world, according to a recent study

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