What to Do If Your Boss Insists You Come Back to the Office

What to Do If Your Boss Insists You Come Back to the Office

If you’ve been lucky enough to simply stroll to your “office” from your bedroom each morning for any part of the past few years, the idea of returning to a morning commute can be panic-inducing for just about anyone, morning people included. 

Whether you have already returned to your office, are preparing to head back, or were never able to work from home, there is a lot of uncertainty and anxiety surrounding a shift back towards physical workplaces after many Americans spent almost two years working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (According to MarketWatch, as many as 35 percent of the American workforce switched to working from home in the early days of the pandemic; that number has since diminished to around 14 percent.) And while any change in routine is bound to cause some level of stress, pandemic or not, worries about safety and health are top of mind for many. 

Given the rise in COVID-19 variants and ever-changing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for masks and other COVID-19 precautions, it’s hard to feel truly safe, even with plenty of precautions. And, for people with children who aren’t able to yet be vaccinated, or who live with someone who is immunocompromised, stress may be extra heightened.

If your boss is insisting that you come back into the office and you’re still feeling unsafe, these tips from medical professionals and therapists can help you navigate your own situation with more clarity and peace of mind. 

When it comes down to it, your health is the most important thing to consider when it comes to a pandemic. As such, making sure you’re following proper safety protocols is imperative, both for yourself and for others. That includes practicing good hand hygiene, social distancing, and wearing a mask. However, with a now readily-available vaccine, there has been some confusion about what still applies, and to whom. 

“The most recent CDC recommendations are for masks to be worn indoors, even if you are fully vaccinated, if you are in areas of substantial or high transmission,” Dr. Vivek Cherian, an internal medicine physician affiliated with the University of Maryland Health System, tells Apartment Therapy. This recommendation is based on the surge in the Delta variant. 

“It seemed for a while that safety precautions were being lifted, particularly if you were fully vaccinated, but the Delta variant is quite contagious, and breakthrough infections have been shown to occur as well,” Dr. Cherian adds. 

When it comes down to it, the original strategies put in place since March 2020 are still just as effective now as they were back then. “Remember, this virus is transmitted primarily via respiratory droplets. The tried and true mitigation strategies we’ve been using for well over a year now continue to apply,” Dr. Cherian says. This means wearing a mask and socially distancing when possible — and now, getting the vaccine if it is available to you.

Make sure your employer follows safety protocols. 

Ensuring your workplace is also on-board with taking care of its employees (and not just engaging in “hygiene theater”) will be important to pay attention to as well. Plexiglas barriers and other dividers can offer a false sense of security, and may actually lower people’s vigilance when it comes to following proper health protocol.

“Interestingly, there is no evidence or even one single study that supports that Plexiglas barriers are effective,” Dr. Cherian explains, adding that they “frankly only function in creating a false sense of security.”

Ensuring everyone at the office wears a mask, keeping workspaces distanced, and enhancing the room’s ventilation are steps your employer can take to keep everyone healthy. Your employer may also ask people for proof of vaccination before they are allowed back in a building, so ask your human resources contact for more information about the steps the company is taking.

When it comes down to safety practices your company should be adhering to, Dr. Cherian recommends that someone from HR or upper management regularly remind employees of the symptoms of COVID-19 and regular testing. “Testing requirements will vary from business to business because there are many variables in place,” he explains. “Variables include whether or not individuals are vaccinated and level of transmission and prevalence in your particular community.”

Most importantly, though, your office should encourage workers to stay home if they’re feeling sick to avoid potentially infecting others, whether their symptoms point to COVID or a common cold. “You’re not being a hero by toughing it out and going into work, potentially exposing others in the workplace,” Dr. Cherian says. 

Be clear, direct, and honest with management. 

If you are feeling worried about returning to the workplace, be open about your concerns. “Speak up. The Delta variant has completely changed the game in how we are responding to the pandemic,” Dr. Cherian says.

HR pros recommend talking to your direct manager first, giving them the opportunity to address your concerns and answer any questions you may have about everything from safety protocols to support for employees who are nervous to return to the office. Before your meeting, prepare a list of questions ahead of time and clearly outline the ultimate goals of the discussion so you can keep the conversation productive. 

“Get your goal really defined,” Stephanie Brubaker, a licensed master social worker based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, recommends. “If your goal is to change something about your role, or how things are being approached by your boss in your workplace, knowing exactly what you’re asking for is the first step.” 

Some changes could include asking clients to wear masks or not meeting with new clients at all if you’re unaware of their vaccination status. Of course, what you will need to feel safe and supported will be based on your specific scenarios and work environment. 

If you schedule a meeting with your boss, and they are unable (or unwilling) to help, that is your sign it’s time to move the conversation to your HR department.

Acknowledge (and accept) feelings of anxiety.

You’re living through uncertain, turbulent times, and some level of anxiety is absolutely normal, considering the circumstances. ”Anxiety often fits the facts (especially during a pandemic that shut down most of the world) so it is valuable to remind ourselves that feeling anxious, even those heavier feelings of existential dread, are normal parts of being human!” Brubaker stresses. 

Dr. Cherian agrees. “Having a sense of anxiety is completely understandable and reasonable,” he says. “We’re still in the midst of a pandemic that has killed over half a million people in this country, maybe even a friend or a loved one.”

Cope with uncertainty in healthy ways. 

However normal anxiety may be given the current situation, there comes a point when anxious thoughts can become overwhelming and leave you feeling frozen and stuck. This is when coping strategies come in handy.

“Know your vulnerability factors,” Brubaker advises. Being mindful of stimuli that may jazz you up, such as coffee or stressful TV, will be helpful in mitigating the tough feelings you’re experiencing. “It’s not to say these things [stimuli] are always unhealthy, but when we’re coping with anxiety, being extra mindful of them really does help,” Brubaker says. 

Additionally, being aware of unhelpful thought patterns can help you begin to reroute them. “Try not to get into the cycle of arguing with your own fears or telling yourself how unreasonable they are,” Brubaker says. Try to avoid giving worries too much weight; instead, simply observe the anxiety and then find ways to self-soothe. Brubaker recommends paced breathing, counting down, or listening to “something engaging but non-disruptive” as good ways to start.

Despite not knowing what the next year, let alone the next week, will bring in regards to COVID-19, focusing on what you can control (and letting go of what you can’t) can help bring you back to earth. Being honest with yourself, your workplace, and your loved ones will also be helpful in navigating this new normal.

When the World Feels Like It’s Devolving into Chaos, Fold Some Socks

When the World Feels Like It’s Devolving into Chaos, Fold Some Socks

In early spring 2020, just as the country began to shut down, my husband and I moved in with his parents. We had had to close our wine importing business and found ourselves in a precarious financial situation. We also wanted to help my in-laws navigate this new pandemic world; both of them are over 70, and my mother-in-law has Alzheimer’s. So the four of us hunkered down and learned how to live together: We gardened together, we cooked together (our favorite Thai dishes, their favorite Southern comfort favorites), we watched old Westerns and introduced them to Melissa McCarthy comedies, and we did way too much day drinking. For a little while, it was almost like a vacation.

As time went on, though, we realized that this new living arrangement required a lot of adjustment and sacrifice. One area where this quickly became apparent was in doing the laundry. This will be familiar for anyone who has ever had a loved one with a neurodegenerative disease like Alzheimer’s: Doing laundry was one of the routines that helped my mother-in-law make sense of the chaos of those early COVID days. It was familiar, she didn’t need help to do it, and she could provide for her family. Great, right? Well, sort of. I quickly learned that I would need to go hunting for shirts and pants that made it into the wrong basket or closet; return underwear that really belonged to my father-in-law, not me (although that wasn’t as awkward as finding my own jockstraps nicely folded for me by my mother-in-law); and schedule sneaky, late-night laundry sessions for the items that I really cared about and didn’t want to disappear. 

Nowhere were these laundry stumbling blocks more evident than with socks. Because if you’ve ever done a washing and drying load in your life, you know that, if Murphy’s Law were specific to laundry, it would go something like, “Any sock that can go missing, will go missing.” And in our family’s case, no matter how hard we tried, we quickly ended up with bags of unmatched socks. Yes, bags. Dozens and dozens of unmatched socks collected in shopping bags and totes. I would order new sets of socks and cross my fingers that they would stay matched for at least a week, but in this house, we wash new clothes before wearing them, so, you guessed it: Some of these brand-new sock pairs never even survived long enough to make it onto feet.

In a world that felt like it was devolving into chaos, it would have been easy to accept my sock dilemma as one more setback in an absolutely garbage year, just another punch in the gut, #pandemiclife. 

Instead, I became determined to make something positive out of the situation. Each week or so, I’d take those mounds of sad singles, dump them onto my bed, put on some music, and get to matching. Or I’d drag the bag to the couch and turn on Netflix before settling into a sock session. I began ritualizing the sorting of the socks, turning it into a meditative, mindful moment. It was a solitary endeavor, one that didn’t require anyone else’s help and forced me to slow down and focus on this one task for however long it took. It was my time — just me and the socks!

I developed a routine. First, I sorted all socks into piles based on color: white socks here, black and gray socks over there, patterned socks in the middle. Then, I’d methodically go through each pile, laying out the socks in front of me so I could have eyes on all of them, training myself to remember shapes and sizes and patterns as I referred to each sock one by one. It was easy to pair up the pink socks with the little green cactuses that my husband loves; the subtly striped ones proved a bit more difficult. The many black ankle socks that were close in size but not exact matches usually just got coupled up regardless; I only had so much patience.  

Sometimes I’d end up surrounded by socks — socks draped over my legs and onto the pillows, or lined up in a row all along the back of the couch. I’d have to shoo away the dogs when they tried to join me and turn down offers of help from my husband or mother-in-law. I had a system! Don’t mess with my system! 

To the casual observer, it would have looked nonsensical; to me, it made so much more sense than almost anything else going on around me. These were moments when I could sit by myself and create some order out of the fear of the pandemic, the pain of living with a loved one with Alzheimer’s, the uncertainty of even day-to-day life. 

Occasionally I’d be able to put together a pile of properly paired socks, a huge victory. I’d gather up all of them in my arms and go show my husband, proud as a second-grader who just built his first diorama. Very often, though, I’d only manage to match a few of the socks. It could be frustrating, especially if it was one of those pandemic days filled with terrifying, continuous breaking news tweets, almost as though my own socks were conspiring with the universe to stress me out. (I found out nearly six months into our stay that my mother-in-law also had a bag of unmatched socks stashed away in her bedroom. Finding that bag was like Christmas morning!) 

But regardless of whether I ended up with two pairs or dozens, my pile of matched socks, no matter how small, served as my win for that day. I hadn’t let Murphy’s Law of Laundry defeat me. Sure, I was destined to deal with another round of missing socks in the coming days. And I would surely encounter more anxiety-inducing tweets, calls from bill collectors, worries about what to do next professionally. But I had my routine. I had my practice. And for an hour or so each week, it felt like everything was going to work out in the end.

Apartment Therapy’s Laundry, Sorted vertical was written and edited independently by the Apartment Therapy editorial team and generously underwritten by Samsung.

Here’s How to Ease Back Into the School Year if You’re Attending IRL

Here’s How to Ease Back Into the School Year if You’re Attending IRL

Where were you when your school switched to remote learning? I was writing my thesis at my university’s library with my friends, and could hear students whispering, drinking coffee, turning pages, and clicking their keyboards. It was a typical day — but that was also the day students got an email on their school accounts: “Beginning on Wednesday, March 11 we will move to remote instruction. Except where specified otherwise, classes will meet remotely at their regularly scheduled time.”

The last three months of my senior year were fully remote, my college graduation was online, and students around the world have tried to adjust to learning with new exam structures, hours-long Zoom classes and the inability to share the same air with peers and professors. By April 2020, 1.2 billion children in 186 countries were affected by school closures, reported the World Economic Forum. 

Though the pandemic is not yet over, we’ve come a long way. Many schools across the United States are monitoring the growing Delta variant while still hoping to carry out their plans of resuming in-person learning. According to New York State Association of School Nurses affiliate Jacki O’Donnell, many of the same best practices for general health apply to reopening schools. “My only advice would be to follow the current CDC guidance, encourage vaccination, mask-wearing and social distancing when appropriate,” she said.

If you or anyone in your family are gearing up to return to in-person learning, here are a few habits to follow to ensure the transition back is smooth and as safe as possible.

Take care of your mental health and continue following CDC guidelines.

Change is always a little scary, even if that change reverts your schedule back to the typical school format you once knew. “You‘re going to have a lot of feelings: excitement, anxiety, grief, anger,” Aimee Daramus, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist and the author of “Understanding Bipolar Disorder” told Apartment Therapy. “It‘s part of the process. If it gets too overwhelming you can find a therapist or support group, but don‘t assume that there‘s something wrong with you for having strong feelings as you re-enter life.”

Daramus recommends coping through a variety of methods, such as having a belated celebration if you experienced a milestone birthday or event and expressing your feelings through a hobby like art, journaling, or music. It’s also important, she says, to “Make a priority of things you‘re passionate about. Don‘t go on an endless round of events that don’t mean anything to you. As much as you can right now, re-evaluate what means the most to you and go get it!”

Ultimately, it’s important to get vaccinated if you’re eligible, wear a mask as often as you can if you’re in a public place, and follow CDC guidelines. (As Vox notes, the more people 12 and older receive the vaccine, the better; doing so can even help prevent unvaccinated kids under 12 from getting sick.) Wash your hands often and trust your gut; if you don’t think you should be in a certain environment because it does not feel safe, or if you do not trust someone regarding the precautions they may or may not be taking against the virus, assert your boundaries and say “no.” 

“Be polite but firm about your boundaries about precautions,” Daramus says. “Don‘t let anyone tell you that you shouldn‘t mask or distance, and it‘s OK to only see friends or family that have been vaccinated.”

Maintain (and protect!) school/life balance.

Just as many people’s work/life balance has blurred, so too has the line between school and home life. By returning to in-person learning, many people will have a change in scenery from perhaps their home to an actual classroom. And while you’ll still have to bring homework home with you, try to implement a schedule that still makes space for time to decompress. 

“I absolutely learn better in-person,” Kate Porterfeld, a graduate school student at New York University and fifth grade teacher at a private school in New York City, told Apartment Therapy. For her, there’s “less distraction, more of a space between my home and work life too.” She hopes that the eventual return to the classroom will help re-establish an important divide between the three hats she currently wears as a student, young adult, and teacher.

Allow yourself time to decompress from Zoom fatigue.

If you’ve been staring at a screen all day, you likely have experienced the physical and emotional strain that comes with it. Many people have been experiencing virtual fatigue (aka “Zoom fatigue”) due to “increased cognitive demands of video conferencing communication,” Krystal Jagoo, MSW, RSW, told Healthline

It can take time to readjust to IRL conversations, so give yourself time to acclimate to the natural chatter that comes alongside it. NYU senior Isabel Grant misses the spontaneity and liveliness of conversations that is difficult to replicate online. While she thinks there has been pros to the online learning experience, she is excited to find alternatives that don’t trigger her virtual fatigue. 

“It is so hard to pay attention for long periods of time, sometimes for three hour lectures,” she told Apartment Therapy. “It felt more and more difficult as the months went on. I feel like I have not retained a lot of information in the last three semesters, so I am overall excited to return to in-person learning.”

Class schedules that support virtual or virtual-optional classes can broaden accessibility for some students, but it can be a hindrance for others, including those with hearing loss. Give yourself time to reacclimatize to in-person meetings, and consider individual needs if you’re working on a group project or want to study together. Check in with fellow students to see if Zoom study sessions are more or less conducive to their needs right now, and build your group projects accordingly.

Take advantage of hands-on learning, if it’s available to you.

Ines Yıldız, who has physically not been in a classroom since March 2020, is starting their master’s degree this September. While they are worried about other people not following COVID-19 guidelines, as well as how they will feel in enclosed school spaces, they are excited to be with their peers. 

“I miss being able to share a space with people who share similar interests and ideas, [and] learning and being in the moment with them,” they said. “I need to be sharing a physical space with the people I’m sharing ideas with, otherwise I’m completely disconnected and uninterested.” 

Porterfeld agrees. “I am very excited to give my students a chance to develop a personal relationship with me that’s not through a screen,” she said. “It’s so fun to feel out personalities, and in turn to let them have a chance to see me as more of a person than this mythical educator.”

Online learning can accommodate certain classes and majors, but isn’t a solution for every track. For example, acting, dance or lab-based classes have proven to be difficult. Ece Tugay, who is double majoring in Archaeology and Art History, and Media and Visual Arts liked the opportunity that online classes provided, but does not find them very beneficial for her learning experience. 

“I believe that online learning is better for theoretical classes but it does not work for practical classes such as illustration, photography, [and] videography,” she said. “But I did really improve my GPA thanks to online classes.” 

Give yourself time to reacclimatize yourself with the non-virtual world.

Finley Muratova, a New York University senior majoring in Journalism and Environmental Sciences, missed being present in classrooms so much that wearing a face mask during a two-hour lecture feels like a small price to pay for the ability to be back in the classroom. “I really missed the feeling of my college being a real place,” they said. “[After] studying over Zoom and spending most of the quarantine far from New York, it began to feel as though NYU was an imaginary place and all of us were playing a really weird game.” 

No matter your current feelings toward reopening, it’s important to check in with yourself and gauge how you feel as the school year goes on, especially given rising cases and the possibility that your school may not have adequate support for both in-person and digital lessons simultaneously. Give yourself space and time to adjust, especially given how turbulent the past year and a half has been.

“I think it’s incredibly important to acknowledge that the pandemic isn’t over, and everyone is still processing and experiencing this trauma in different ways,” Porterfeld said. 

Yasmin Gulec


Yasmin Güleç is a freelance culture, nightlife, politics and food reporter born in Istanbul, Turkey and based in New York. She claims to be Anthony Bourdain’s #1 fan and has worked for CNN, National Geographic and Annie Leibovitz Photo Studio.

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