3 ways to manage the ‘hybrid headache’ as we return to work

As restrictions ease and people return to the office, it’s important that our relationship with work remains healthy, however different it looks. Brendan Street, Professional Head of Emotional Wellbeing, shares his three top tips to manage the psychological stress of hybrid working.

The past year has been mentally tough but as restrictions ease, it doesn’t mean our stresses disappear - instead, we simply face new ones. For many, this will be the ‘hybrid headache’ of juggling long remote hours whilst adjusting back to office life. Those who aren’t prepared may face a stressful period of adaption which can lead to burnout – a condition now recognised by the WHO.

However, by setting boundaries and embracing the benefits of working from home we can manage the 'hybrid headache' and make the new ways of working work for us.

Embrace flexibility

As offices re-open, we’re likely to see a return of ‘work-from-home guilt’ – where we worry that remote working appears unproductive and lazy, and so we overwork as a result. It’s an unhealthy habit that can see us working longer hours and skipping lunch to ‘justify’ our flexible working perks.

The long-term stress of overworking leads to serious health risks, including physical symptoms like fatigue, nausea and headaches as well as mental health problems like anxiety, low mood and depression.

It’s important to remember flexible working is a benefit and we should embrace its advantages without guilt. For example, it may be tempting to log on early on remote working days to compensate for the time otherwise spent commuting. Instead, use this time for activities missed out on while in the office, like exercising or spending more time with family.

Leave work at the door

As we adjust to the unique demands of hybrid working, it can be tricky to separate work and home life when our home is our office for half the week. As a result, we often kit our personal devices out with work apps so that we can be available when our colleagues need us. This ‘always-on’ culture is unhealthy, making it difficult to switch off from work and relax. Making hybrid working a sustainable habit means learning to leave our work at the door – even when working from home.

Define your working hours, even when working remotely, and stick to them. Communicate these to your colleagues too so they know they shouldn’t expect a reply out of hours. While one of the benefits of flexible working is the ability to fit work around other activities, it’s important the lines don’t become blurred.

If you prefer to take the morning for yourself and work into the evening, make sure you don’t stay online too close to your bedtime routine. When we work, our stress levels naturally rise, which is what makes us alert and productive, so make sure you leave enough time for these to return to normal before trying to sleep. Practise proper sleep hygiene too. This means leaving the bed for sleep only, and not working from it as this creates stressful subconscious associations with working.

Relish routine

Flexible working shouldn’t mean erratic or inconsistent working. The novelty of hybrid working may see some struggle to create a routine as we switch between the unique demands of remote working and visiting the office. This instability means we can’t prepare our expectations from day to day and leads to us asking ‘what if?’ and expecting the worst.

Just as we would define our routine when working full-time in the office, we need to recreate this in the hybrid world. This may mean working the same hours every day, regardless of where you’re based. Similarly, defining set ‘office days’ allows you to establish stronger working routines, like booking all meetings for days you’re in the office.

Routine also lays the foundation for healthier habits outside of work. For example, giving yourself a set lunch break with time to cook healthier meals and regular windows to exercise or attend fitness classes. Ultimately, these healthier habits help us remain at our peak physical and mental fitness as we face the uncertainty ahead.

Last updated Wednesday 4 August 2021

First published on Wednesday 4 August 2021