Workplace returnees in Wonderland

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Starting a new job can be nerve-wracking, but returning to an in-office role for a large corporation after working from home for a start-up can feel like a chapter out of ‘Alice in Wonderland’, as our columnist SJ reports

I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date!” Like Alice in Wonderland, that’s what I chimed, as I sprinted from the parking lot to the front entrance of my new work building, only taking a moment to pause as I passed through security screening.

Swearing under my breath, even as I struggled to catch it, I slowed my steps for a moment to take it all in. It felt surreal to be returning to a workplace after a year of working from home.

Just like for Alice, coming back to the ‘real world’ felt to me like waking up from a very strange dream. In fact, it feels like waking up in an entirely different reality. Before you lose your own head, here are some tips and tricks, drawn from my own experience, for surviving working life, post-Wonderland.

Wonderland navigation tips

First, don’t neglect self-care. In Wonderland, one of the first things you’ll notice is that your feet are incredibly uncomfortable.

This might be down to my WFH (working from home) standard uniform of athleisurewear and socks, and hardly ever wearing shoes at all, but my feet are now a completely different shape. Do yourself a favour: Invest in a new and comfortable pair of shoes.

And if it wasn’t enough that your feet feel as though you walked the entire length of Wonderland’s Tulgey Wood, you may also start to notice a searing pain in your eyes.


Readjusting to the jarring luminescent lighting of the standard office cubicle will have you hallucinating the Cheshire Cat’s grin every time you rub your overworked orbitals. My advice: Rest your eyes regularly if you can and invest in light filtering glasses to block out the most harmful rays.

My recommendation is that you spend your first ten days having one-on-one chats with your new teammates. Anyone that you will interact with — directly or indirectly — is someone you can learn from

Second, get social. After you’ve physically adjusted to being in your new space, it’s time to start adjusting to your new team. It can all feel a bit like the Mad Hatter’s tea party, where all of your preconceived notions of social decorum are challenged and you try to keep pace with the banter. But don’t lose yourself trying to solve riddles with no answers.

My recommendation is that you spend your first ten days having one-on-one chats with your new teammates. Anyone that you will interact with — either directly or indirectly — is someone you can learn from.

If you don’t like asking basic questions like, “So what is your role here?” or “How can I be most helpful?”, you might go with my method and ask, “What about your role energises you? Is there anyone on the team that you think could use more support? Can you tell me about what you’re hoping to learn in the coming year?”

I personally found that asking my colleagues about what they loved about the job was a welcome and pleasant icebreaker. And speaking of ice-breakers, when that inevitable moment comes when you need to introduce yourself to a room full of strangers, I highly suggest asking them “What is your most used emoji?” Learning the emojis of my new teammates taught me more about who they were as a person than anything I learned in my one-to-ones.

Third, give yourself time to adjust, especially if, like me, you are moving from the fast-paced, independent self-starter environment of a start-up world to the slow-and-steady vibe of a large corporation.

Often, you’ll find that the assignments are fewer, the decisions take longer and they involve way more people. What may feel like an overwhelming lack of urgency among your colleagues could well produce a niggling feeling in your brain.

There is often a correlation between roles that come with high expectations and low autonomy that can predispose you to madness. I warn you to be wary of it, because if you’re not careful, it can lead you down the slippery slope of burnout.

No cure for change

With no magic potion or instant cure for these ailments, my best advice is to open yourself up to a more alternative ways of thinking. (And no, I’m not insinuating that you smoke a little sheesha with a magic caterpillar.)

A new exercise routine, studying a new language, or learning a skill that has nothing to do with your job are all effective ways to unwind from a 9-to-5 routine that is suddenly full of new experiences.

Personally, I’ve taken up the thrill of highspeed downhill longboarding since we’ve moved to a new place where they actually have these things called ‘hills’. (The irony here is that my embrace of this new hobby has shifted the conviction that I’m going mad onto my wife, instead of me.)

With my warnings out of the way, I’d like to conclude by offering this final piece of heartfelt advice to those taking up new roles and going back to the workplace. Whether you love your new role, or totally hate it, always keep in mind that your ‘now’ is not your ‘forever’. It’s just the present. But like they say: “Today is a gift. That’s why they call it the present.”

This article first appeared in DEVELOP3D Magazine

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