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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

Back to the Office: How to Transition From Remote to On-Site Work

Last January, I decided to leave my work-from-home public relations consulting job in favor of an on-site position at a prominent law firm.

And while I knew that transitioning to a remote position would be tough, I didn’t expect that making the move back to a physical office would be the more challenging shift. (The fact that desk naps are frowned upon? Only the tip of the iceberg.)

If you’re going through a similar situation, here are a few tips that helped me (and a few others in the same boat) make the transition as painless as possible.

Make Yourself at Home

One of the most jarring things about leaving the comforts of your home office is that the at-home conveniences you’re used to, like having a coffee pot within arm’s reach and wearing sweats all day, are no longer feasible.

And while you’ll probably never be able to paint your nails or play death metal music at your corporate desk, you can ease the transition by finding a couple ways to make your new office feel more familiar. Things like bringing in a small plant, stocking your cube with your favorite tea, or requesting an ergonomic chair can help you feel a little more at home. Says Courtney, a public relations professional in San Francisco who returned to her company’s headquarters after two years of remote work, “I brought a blanket to be more comfortable while the air conditioner blasted. Noise-cancelling headphones also helped.”

In my home office, I had become completely dependent on a specific technology set-up—a second monitor and phone headset may seem like small things, but they actually made a huge difference to me. When I got to my new office, all it took was a quick email to our IT department to get the full set-up I was used to, and it instantly increased my efficiency and comfort.

Stick to Your Routine

Every effective remote employee has a killer routine—it’s a necessary structure in an otherwise totally unstructured setting. God bless anyone who tries to interrupt my morning routine: tea, oatmeal, and email catch-up!

So, even in your new world of drop-bys and impromptu meetings, trying to stick to some semblance of the familiar routine you’re used to will help you be as productive as possible. Naturally, some elements may be difficult to implement—say, if your routine includes folding laundry during morning conference calls—but if you typically designate your first hour to review industry news or tackle mundane tasks, stick with that. If you prefer to set aside time in the afternoon to tackle major projects, don’t hesitate to communicate this preference to your co-workers.

Dennis, a technology executive, remotely managed a 20-member team for three years before moving back to an office setting. When he first started working from home, he learned that establishing boundaries around his time promoted the most efficiency for him—so he’s maintained that approach in his on-site workspace. “My team knows that ad-hoc meetings are only available in the morning. I do have an open-door policy for matters requiring my immediate attention, but if an employee asks for five minutes, I make sure we stick to that timeline.”

Be Transparent

Being productive when you’re working remotely pretty much demands constant and proactive communication with your team members—they can’t drop by and ask questions, so every email or phone communication needs to be perfectly detailed and clear. Likewise, when you return to the confines of brick and mortar, it can be tempting to assume that everyone is on the same page (or that people will pop in if they need anything) and to relax your communication a bit.

But don’t fall into this trap. Especially when you’re in a new job, maintaining the detailed communication that you’re used to helps prevent misunderstandings and builds trust among your team. When Dennis transitioned to an on-site workspace, he started providing his team with detailed documentation regarding current projects, daily objectives, and metrics. “I learned in a virtual environment that documenting my daily objectives, including my schedule and tasks, makes me highly productive—and also allows my team to know what I am doing,” he says.

Branch Out, Within Reason

Perhaps the biggest shift of all is going from total isolation (and quiet) to an office buzzing with activity and chatter. And while that can be a welcome change (Courtney realized that she really “missed chatting up juicy reality TV shows and the general office banter”), it can also be tough to keep up the same level of productivity when you’re suddenly surrounded by side conversations. “In the virtual environment, it was easier to follow a schedule and stay focused,” says Dennis.

Incidentally, a little self-discipline is critical to the onslaught of new workplace socialization. Try blocking out time to connect with colleagues and (diplomatically) being clear when you need time to yourself. Say, for example, that you have colleague who tends to want to share the details of the weekend every Monday morning, but you are always on deadline to turn in a status report at 10:30 AM. Rather than interrupting the story or being completely distracted (rude), cut this off at the pass. Send a quick email when you first get in: “Hey! I am really looking forward to catching on your weekend. I’ve got a project I need to jam on by 10:30, so why don’t I come by your office at 11 with some coffee?” This approach not only allows you to focus on your work, it also puts you in control of a situation that could otherwise feel overwhelming.

There’s no doubt that working remotely is great. But remember that many of the benefits—autonomy, routine and comfort, to name a few—are totally transferrable. While the adjustments may initially be overwhelming, with practice and patience you can find success and satisfaction on “the inside,” too.

Photo of woman working courtesy of Shutterstock.