How to handle FOTO (Fear Of The Office)

Aug 07, 2021

How to handle FOTO (Fear Of The Office)

Going back to the office post lockdown is an uncertain time for many. Here is an article that I wrote recently for Happiful magazine

 Why we are anxious?

Most office workers have spent the last sixteen months working from home with little face to face contact with colleagues. The role of worker, manager, partner, parent, teacher have all segued into one space with less opportunity to interact with others.  Boundaries have become blurred and private home space has become an office. Real human interaction has moved online to Zoom or Teams and the camera has always been on reducing privacy.  The pictures on the dining room wall have become public property.


People have been struggling with fear and uncertainty for a long time and have been in fight, flight or freeze mode with an invisible enemy. Anxiety has become much more prevalent in our lives.

What lies outside has become scary and alien and it is safer to stay inside, in the shrunken comfort zone. Remote working has kept the world ticking over but Zoom and telephone are a poor substitute for raw, messy human interaction where we can touch, smell, and feel. We are social animals, and we need healthy interaction with others outside of our immediate family. Having got out of practice, this could be a scary thing to have to do.

Here are some practical tips to help

  1. Take small steps to ease your way back into it. 

Going from 5 days at home to 5 days in the office is too big a jump.  Decide what will work best for you; do you want flexible working such as 3 days at home, two in the office and what hours? Companies are often uncertain about the approach to take with returnees and may be flexible and want to have your views. Talk to your manager and agree what the longer-term working plan will be and adjust your home responsibilities to suit.


You also need a short-term plan for a phased return to work.  You have created a different rhythm in the last 16 months.  It would be a shock to the system to jump straight back in so ease your way back gently.

  1. Rebuild your office contacts

Get in touch with close colleagues and build up social interaction in advance so that you will be returning, feeling part of a social group.  You may have had regular online meetings, but have you had the chance to fully engage with them?  Feeling connected with your colleagues before you start back will mean that you are coming back to a warm start rather than feeling the stranger at the first day in school. Maybe you could take the initiative and set up a WhatsApp group to share experiences such as the five things in lockdown that you have Loved, Lost, Learned, Longed for and Looking forward to. 

Build up to the return date and make it a fun, memorable occasion.

  1. Refocus yourself 

This is a great opportunity to step out of your rut.

Consider whether this is an opportunity to have a complete change of work or to go for a different role in the same company.  It is also an opportunity to look at what would make your current role even better.

Try the following two exercises to reflect on the past and reset the future:

Draw two pictures. One representing life as it is right now and one representing your ideal future.  Where does work fit into this and what do you need to have happen to get you to your ideal future?

 Work out your Ikigai;

What you are good at – your profession

What you can be paid for – your vocation

What you love – your passion

What the world needs – your mission

Draw these as 4 circles.The intersection of all of these us your Ikigai, where you should put your focus for a long and happy life.  Does your current job fit in here or not?  If not, plan for the future you would like and see the current job as a stepping-stone.

  1. Get in training!

 Make time, before you go back, to relax and look after yourself.  Reflect on what have you not had time to do that you wished you had? Many people have a long ‘if only’ list.  Park the excuses and make use of the time you have left before your return 

You have been through a hugely stressful period so reward yourself with time out.  Consider this an investment in feeling good and reducing stress levels  so that you will be able to perform better in work. Meditation, massage and other ways of loving yourself will help. 

When you are back in work, it is also important to continue to invest in your well-being.  A walk at lunchtime and eating healthy food rather than a rushed sandwich at your desk will make you healthier and more productive. Consider, for example, that the French with their discipline of long, relaxed lunches are 15% more productive per hour than the English. 

  1. Look forward to it

 There are many reasons why people go to work. Clearly money is important for many but there are many other benefits of going to work. If you can focus on these, then the return to the office will be much more compelling. The benefits include:

  • Social interaction with your colleagues
  • Those random face to face conversations that can brighten the day
  • Feeling part of a team
  • The energy that is created when people are working together to a shared purpose
  • A contrast from home and preventing work and home coalescing into one long day
  • Closer supervision and support
  • Opportunities to learn and develop
  • The emotional engagement with the purpose of the organisation

Think through what you can do to make the list even more compelling. For your first day back to be fun and fulfilling, what do you need to have happen? 

  1. Reset

 You have had a lot of time away and you will have changed. This is an exciting opportunity to reset yourself and be the best version of yourself when you go back to work.  Step out of your old shell and decide who would you like to be when you go back to work? 

 It may have been a long time since you saw your colleagues in the flesh and you will all have changed.  Create your ideal persona and unleash that on the work world.  You can be confident rather than timid, you can be interesting rather than dull, you can be ambitious rather than placid, fun rather than sad.

 You can also dress differently, have a new hairstyle, and surprise and delight your collleagues. Imagine that you can feel a million dollars when you walk back into work. Feel your new found confidence glowing as you start as you want to go on.