Starting June 1, 2021, employees on the University of Colorado campuses who were abruptly sent home in March 2020, will begin to transition back to campus. Not surprisingly, this is raising a lot of questions and, for some, anxiety. 

During the past 14 months, work patterns changed, and people adapted to working remotely. For many, working remotely resulted in better engagement, more productivity and better communication. People spent less time commuting and enjoyed more flexibility. For others, it was a challenging time. The lack of structure and not having a place to work away from home has been difficult. Now, regardless of their preferences, faculty, staff and students are being uprooted once again and expected to adapt to new work environments. I am hearing that this transition seems even harder and more uncertain than what folks experienced in March 2020. 

The reality is that life on campus will look different from one division, department, unit and individual to another as university officers and their leadership teams assess the best work environment for their staff. Inevitably, we will all face some changes and uncertainty. 

It seems each campus is going to great lengths to be transparent, offering information and guidance and yet, questions loom: Do I have to return? Is my health at risk? What if I lost my social skills? What if my child care remains unavailable? What will my job look like when I return? What if I am not sure I want to keep doing this work? Do I have the tools and skills to accommodate changes to my job? Will this job continue to financially provide for me and my family? 

Following are some strategies to help calm the anxiety, prepare for a smooth transition and forge ahead.  

Acknowledge

  • Acknowledge your emotions. They are legitimate.
  • If you are experiencing a moment of anxiety, recognize it. Practice a few moments of focused breathing. 
  • Detach from the story you are telling yourself. Remember, our thoughts are just thoughts. They are not the ultimate truth or reality.
  • Look for the good in your situation. This can generate emotions of hope and optimism to help quiet anxiety and reduce the time in which the feeling is experienced.

Plan 

  • Consider your new surroundings and take whatever precautions you need to take.
  • Communicate! Work closely with your direct supervisor. Make sure you understand what they are requesting and expecting. Communicate your needs and how they fit with those expectations. 
  • Incorporate new healthy habits you developed while working from home – for example, quiet morning routines, walks and exercise.   
  • Do a dry run of what your day will look like when you return to the office. 
  • Dust off your work clothes.
  • Prepare meals. 
  • Map out the week.

Accept that things will be different 

  • What was once familiar may now feel unfamiliar. We must accept the differences and adapt. This can be mentally exhausting. Anticipate feeling more drained than usual as you adjust. Garner support from friends, family and therapy. As CU Boulder faculty and staff, you have access to seven free counseling sessions with the Faculty and Staff Assistance Program. Anschutz, Colorado Springs and Denver have access to the Colorado State Employee Assistance Program.
  • It is true that you probably have not exercised your social skills as much the past year. Be kind to yourself. You are not alone. Others are in the same situation. Be more empathic and compassionate.

With fear and change often comes conflict. Ideally, open and effective communication will help mitigate disputes; however, if they do arise, the Ombuds Office is available to help. Whether it is individual coaching, navigating resources, providing mediation, escalating concerns or being a listening ear, the ombuds office is a free resource available to you during work hours. We help people identify options, strategize a path forward and repair relationships. 

Additional resources:

University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus

Link to CU Anschutz Medical Campus Changes Coming June 1

Link to CU Denver and Anschutz Medical Campus Ombuds Office

University of Colorado Boulder Campus

Link to CU Boulder Summer/Fall Transition

Link to CU Boulder COVID-19 Updates & Resources

Link to CU Boulder HR well-being workshops

Link to CU Boulder Ombuds Office

University of Colorado Colorado Springs Campus

Link to Returning to UCCS campus

Link to UCCS Covid-19 Info & Updates

University of Colorado Denver Campus

Link to CU Denver Operations for Fall 2021

Link to CU Denver Coronavirus FAQs

Link to CU Denver Safe Return Info and Guidance

Link to CU Denver HR Crisis/Mental Health Resources

By Elizabeth Hill, Associate Director, University of Colorado Boulder