How to prepare for going back to work during the pandemic, according to a career coach

No matter how old we are or how long we’ve been working, we all have questions when it comes to careers—from how to respond to a rejection letter to learning to say no when a role isn’t a good fit. That’s where Career Counselor comes in. In this weekly series, we connect with experts to answer all of your work-related questions. Because while we don’t all have the luxury of a career coach, we still deserve to grow in our careers.

As we move further into the depths of quarantine, many of us can’t help but ask: What’s the new normal actually going to look like? The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has disrupted many areas of our lives, and it’s impossible to imagine that things will go back exactly as they were. For many of us, this means looking for new jobs or adjusting to new rules and systems at the office. The thought of finding a new rhythm in our work lives may feel incredibly intimidating.

But fear not: We spoke to Serena Johnson, career counselor and founder of Ladies Who Do Cool Shit, in order to garner more information about how we can adjust to this shifting professional landscape. Her main point? Things are going to be different for a while, and it’s okay if it takes you a bit longer to adjust.


HelloGiggles (HG): For people currently employed, working from home has been a huge shift in lifestyle. What are some ways a person might prepare to work?

Serena Johnson (SJ): If you know that you will need to go back to something that might resemble the days before COVID-19, I would start to practice as soon as possible. Get up at the time you need to get up at, shower, get dressed, and be at your desk at the time you need to start work. However you can structure your day to resemble the lifestyle you will need in the future, start by doing that. It’s a habit, after all!

I would also ask your employer if there is the possibility of easing into a new schedule. Can you stagger the days that you come into the office before going back to a full-time schedule? How can you and your employer set yourself up for success?

Finally, boundaries are going to be really important when you return to work. What do you need to feel safe? What do you need to succeed? Does the idea of people hugging you unexpectedly induce anxiety? Does your company have rules in place to keep everyone healthy? Map out what you need to feel safe and productive at work. Ask your boss for a plan on how they’re going to keep you and the other employees secure.


HG: In our opinion, the coronavirus will potentially shift how workspaces and employees are treated. What changes do you foresee in the future?

SJ: I anticipate the biggest change we will see is the number of people working from home. This pandemic has made it clear that a significant amount of jobs are able to be completed outside of the office. If we continue to have restrictions around how we gather, large office environments could become obsolete. With more people working from home, there won’t be the need to have a home base for some of these companies.

Depending on how this virus pans out, if you do go to the office regularly, you might have to take your temperature every day or get medically tested on a regular basis. Employees might be required to wear masks in common areas and in any in-person meetings.


HG: Some people were laid off during the pandemic. How do you encourage them to get back into the workforce once our country begins to adjust to a new normal?

SJ: Take this time to ask yourself what type of work environment sets you up for success. What do you want your day-to-day to look like? What type of tasks activate you rather than deplete you? When you take the time to get clear on what you actually want out of work—not what you think you want or what people tell you should want—you can return to work that not only pays your bills but that also brings you joy and satisfaction.

I am always of the mindset that relationships will get you everywhere. Start going on informational interviews and catching up with people in your industry now. Keep those relationships warm, as you will need them when the country starts to open up the economy again. The competition will be fierce, and you’re going to want to bypass applying into the abyss that is the ATS submission.

Finally, applying for everything under the sun and seeing what sticks is not the route you want to take. You will end up feeling burnt out and frustrated. Only apply for roles that you truly think you would be a good fit for.


HG: What can employers or business owners do to take care of their employees during this time?

SJ: The main thing is to have compassion and flexibility for your employees. Every single person is dealing with this in different ways. Some people are shutting down and finding it impossible to work and some people are coping by becoming project monsters. Take the time to ask how your employees are coping—truly coping—and ask yourself what flexibility is needed during this time.

For example, gone is the 9-5 workday. Especially when your employees have kids, extended family to care for, and added life responsibilities that have all of a sudden been placed upon them. Give your employees the space to feel what they need to feel and the flexibility to perform their duties at a time of day that suits them. Trust that most of your employees do care about their jobs and they want to make sure the work is getting done.


HG: Anxiety is running high for many people these days, employed or not. What are some ways a person can take care of their mental health in the coming months?

SJ: Acknowledge that this is hard. We as a country are experiencing collective grief. This is not normal, and it is okay if you’re feeling a bit hopeless right now. Make sure you’re trying to move your body in some capacity and that you do something every day that makes you feel good about yourself.

If you’re unemployed, make sure you take care of your needs first. That means applying for unemployment, making sure you have food for the week, going for a walk, etc. Then, if you have any mental space left, you can focus on your job hunt. I tell my clients to pick one small task a day to work on. That way, they’re moving forward but also not becoming overwhelmed.

If you’re working, setting boundaries is crucial. Make sure you’re not working constantly. It is easy to do that when you lose the structure of going to an actual building. Most of all, give yourself tons of compassion. If you feel like you cannot produce at the same levels as before, that is normal and okay.

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