Balancing the back to work narrative

For the self-employed, ‘back to the office’ isn’t quite the same as for those in ‘staff jobs’ – here’s how to manage the feelings and keep connected and connecting.

If three words could sum up the beginning of September 2021, ‘Back to work’ are arguably the winners. Followed closely by ‘back to the office’, for many, this autumn is the ‘great return’, the ‘new commute’ and the ‘new normal’ of being back, at least some of the working week, in your company’s HQ or regional office.

Headlines discuss workers getting used to everything from the environment to the small talk – but there’s a group of workers who aren’t in this ‘back to office’ category, and it can feel strange to be on the sidelines of the national narrative.

I’m talking, of course, about freelancers. For the self-employed, our working day was often from home pre-pandemic, then during and now, of course, still is even though lockdown restrictions have lifted.

There are different freelance levels to this, of course – some will be going back to co-working spaces. Perhaps if you’re the kind of freelancer who, like me before I moved from London to Oxfordshire, goes into client’s offices on a short-term basis. I used to enjoy being able to go to different offices, finding my way around different areas of the city, meeting new people and delving into new eateries in my lunchbreaks.

Then there are those of you who might have a workshop, a studio, a shop or offer a service where you go to people’s houses. Not so much ‘back to the office’ as ‘back to the open road’ for some.

But since the pandemic, I’ve worked exclusively from home, and that’s how things will be for me now. And as I see the headlines about the re-opening of the working world, I wonder about the impact on freelancers who might feel suddenly forgotten.

The work from home mentality which many in staff jobs hadn’t experienced before (and may now miss!) is our reality, and it can be difficult to stay focused when it seems like everyone else is spending their time being sociable and meeting in person again.

And so, it turns to us to be resourceful about how we connect with people, too. From current clients to new ones, possible new contacts and other freelancers. We mustn’t forget that we do have the chance to ‘get out there’ again – with this in mind I’m contacting some local self-employed friends to arrange lunches and coffees, to catch up and see how things are in real life.

I’m also planning some ‘keeping in touch’ days in London later in September, where I can meet some contacts, and spend some time away from the confines of the home office to write, plan and plot the next steps of the business for 2021 and beyond.

Joining in with webinars is also key – we freelancers did this a lot in lockdown, and I would argue that staying in touch via Zoom meetings, or workshops, is still hugely valuable as a freelancer. I’ve made a lot of new connections that way, and being able to work with people around the world is something we shouldn’t now stop because the more immediate locality is at our disposal.

The final part of this is finding balance with the narrative around going ‘back to work’ – the words we use and the ones we choose to hear. It comes with similar feels to the ‘back to school’ season, too. While this is a time for new beginnings, let’s not forget the contacts we made in lockdown, and the people who supported our businesses. Now is the time to make space and time to thank them, to see if you can meet them in person and say hello – to get ‘out there’ and feel part of the ‘back to the office’ vibes without the constraints of clocking in and out every single day