The 6 Steps Of Returning To The Office

What to do about your commute, your office nemesis, and more.

by Allison Goldberg
A collage of the different aspects of returning to the office workers can expect.
CSA Images, JimSchemel, Kseniya Ovchinnikova, Oliver W. Ottley III/Getty Images

With 70% of businesses planning some kind of return to the office this fall, it’s time to finally see if your new co-workers are actually the heights they say they are. And while hybrid work is likely the way of the future for many, that still means you have to find pants that fit for, like, half the week.

It’s been a while since you regularly interacted with co-workers IRL, so there are a lot of things to remember, such as how to “touch up your appearance” without a Zoom filter. (It’s called makeup, and you should double check that yours isn’t expired.) You will also need to learn how to argue over conference rooms again (note that people can hear you when you curse out loud). On the flip side, you’ll be able to blame other people when the sink is filled with coffee mugs. So, you win some, you lose some.

Need a reminder of how to office? Here’s a step-by-step guide to the major changes — and silver linings — you can expect as you drag yourself back to your workplace.

Step 1: Planning Your Commute

Nothing will dull the pain of having to sit in traffic again, except for being able to scream where no one can hear you. But if you drove to the office that morning, you will have to drive home that night, and you’ll need to factor that into your post-work drinking plans. You can’t shut your laptop, roll over, and rosé the night away as you’ve done for the past 18 months. The upside, of course, is the return of work happy hours, which means sometimes your boss pays for your alcohol. However, since drinking and driving is as misguided as not getting vaccinated, that means you’ll need to get a ride home. Unfortunately, this might mean bumming a lift from Cheryl in Accounting, whose quarantine hobby was knitting sweaters out of cat hair.

Step 2: Deciding When To WFH

Many offices are considering having teams come in on different days, which begs the question: Do you choose to go into the office when your work nemesis is at her desk, or continue avoiding Cheryl at all costs? Going in on different days means you can still “accidentally” mute her on Zoom — but on the other hand, who would Jim be without Dwight there beside him? If you’re going to match up your schedule to your sworn enemy’s, make sure your allies and/or crushes are going in as well. After all, if a stapler is placed in Jell-O without any Pams to witness it, did it even happen?

Step 3: Gossiping IRL

This would have been good info to have two Marches ago, but ICYMI, your boss can read your Slack DMs. Being back at the literal water cooler is a prime opportunity to refresh your gossiping skills, but don’t expect to be mean like it’s 2019. It’s hard to whisper from 6 feet apart, and even harder with masks on. (Did you say Derek “eats ass” or “has cats”?)

Instead, get old school. Send a paper airplane to your work wife, or alienate everyone and deliver gossip by drone. Create an intricate, months-long scavenger hunt of clues as to where you hid all the organic snacks. For you overachievers who learned another language in quarantine, try gossiping in that. You can even learn Klingon on Duolingo, though if you do that, rest assured that the office gossip will be about you.

Step 4: Making It Look Like You’re Working

Let’s face it — it’s much harder to fake doing actual work when you’re surrounded by co-workers who can clearly see Facebook Marketplace pulled up on your computer.

The best way to fake work while you’re at your desk depends on what your larger goals are. Are you trying to write a novel on the clock? Draft it in Gmail — that way, when anyone glances over, you are hard at work sending or receiving emails. If you’re looking for a side hustle, you might be able to get away with working another job while you’re at your desk. If what you’re really gunning for is your boss’ job, however, you may have to actually work for that.

Step 5: Calling In “Sick”

If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that we need to abandon the uniquely American practice of coming into the office with active pink eye. Just stay home. That said, faking illness so you can nurse your hangover in peace is a precarious activity at this point in human history. You’ll want to suggest you’re sick with something rough enough that you’re not expected to work from bed, but not so bad that you force the entire office to self-quarantine. Food poisoning is a classic for a reason: It’s neither contagious nor something you can Zoom through. Consider utilizing the phrase “exploding from all ends” for added effect.

Step 6: Managing Your Emotions

You may be concerned about going into the office — how will you have your daily state-of-the-world-induced cry in private? Fortunately, all your co-workers are wondering the same thing. Throw it back to middle school and lock yourself in a bathroom stall. If you work for a fancy tech company, you can break down in the “meditation room” — it’s what they’ve always been used for, if we’re being honest. And when you need to pull yourself together for your one-on-one with your boss, calm down by remembering that things could always be worse — it could still be 2020.