One question that’ll pop up in your mind if you’re recovering from COVID is “To return or not to return to work?” However, the question isn’t ‘if’, but ‘when.’
A negative COVID test marks the end of the virus’ stay in your body, but it doesn’t signify the end of your recovery. If there’s one symptom that’s lasted in patients after the 14-day quarantine, it’s fatigue and post covid recovery goes on at its own pace. Going back to work is challenging if symptoms still persist, and the expectation of jumping in where you left off could weigh down on you!
Over the months, I’ve watched numerous friends, family members, and colleagues contract and recover from the virus. While some of them were asymptomatic, a majority of them experienced symptoms that took a long time to fade. Being my curious (and caring) self, I regularly checked up on them, enquiring about their symptoms, vitals, and more. After hours of reading and observation, it boiled down to 3 symptoms that take the longest to go away: post-COVID fatigue, migraines, and loss of taste. But what happens when you have to return to work soon after, despite the lingering symptoms?
How To Transition Into Working After COVID
Remember, easing yourself into work is the best way to go after COVID, so that your body and mind get enough time to get used to the routine. Follow this timeline when coping with returning to work after COVID!
My colleague felt drained after an hour-long meeting, which made her skip the remaining ones for the day.
The first week of returning to work after COVID is all about catching up on what you’ve missed. Bring yourself up to speed on tasks- talk about the work that’s been done and what is remaining. Discuss timelines and any changes that occurred while you were away.
Limit the number of meetings you attend, as they can be draining since the anxiety of going back to work after COVID is real. The first two days will almost be like a test, as you observe when the fatigue hits. Take this time to speak to your boss about how you’re feeling, and how long you might need to fully recover. Even if your manager doesn’t ask, make it a point to check in and have this talk during the first two days of rejoining.
The second week is when you can take on heavier tasks, but remember to space it out. Keep a watch out for migraines and fatigue, and allot 2-3 hours of rest during the day if needed. Inform your colleagues and manager of your recovery and be clear on the tasks you will be doing this week.
You’ve had a week to understand if there’s any pending work and absorb the changes that have occurred during your absence, so be prepared with a list of tasks that you can pitch in on.
Take it easy, though, and only volunteer for tasks that are feasible and you can provide value to. If not, let them go! This is one aspect that my friend had a hard time with, but knowing when to put your foot down is essential.
It’s now time to run point on projects and tasks that you were doing before COVID hit. However, your body is still recovering and even though you’ve resumed your duties, keep a watch out for any symptoms like headaches and fatigue. Also post covid recovery time varies individual to individual. Keep that in mind too! So stay hydrated and eat well. If caffeine is your fuel, like it is for many of my loved ones, coffee might taste bitter or not bode well in keeping you energised through the day. Rely on fruit juices or lemon water to stay refreshed if needed!
If possible, attend meetings and resume your pre-COVID responsibilities.
If you feel like you need some more time to fully resume your tasks, let your boss and colleagues know. Remember, COVID hits people differently, so it’s possible that your symptoms and recovery could be completely different from another person’s. Put your health first, and everything will follow!
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Things To Remember When Resuming Work After COVID
1. You Are Still Recovering
Your recovery hasn’t ended with a negative COVID test, so don’t get too excited to jump right back in. Take it easy and schedule 30 minutes of rest after meetings or draining tasks. Inform your colleagues that you’ll slowly resume your duties, and take it one step at a time.
2. Speak To Your Manager
No two COVID cases are identical and no two managers are the same. This time is new for everyone, employers included. If you feel like you can’t do a certain task or need some more time to rest, approach your manager and speak to them about your situation. Do not harbour too much of the stress of returning to work after COVID.
If it’s not possible to remove you entirely from a project or even give you more time off, try to reach a middle ground.
For example, take a half-day if you can’t get leave. Break down your tasks into steps that multiple people can help you with, if possible. Block a couple of hours when your symptoms are at their worst so nobody bothers you during that time.
3. Structure Your Day According To Symptoms
Take the first two days to understand how your body functions- which tasks make you the most tired or when do you feel most productive? Use these learnings to structure your day accordingly.
For example, if meetings are causing too much fatigue, request for your part to be finished first so you can drop off. Or if you feel drained in the morning, schedule most of your work for the afternoon or evening. Inform your colleagues as early as possible about these changes.
4. Be Prepared With A Contingency
Even if you don’t need respite right now, create a contingency for when you might need it. Come up with a new timeline if certain tasks are delayed or ask colleagues if they can fill in if you feel unwell. Knowing what will happen if you can’t make it to work one day will definitely give you some comfort and mental peace.
5. Take Frequent Breaks
Ensure that you do what it takes to work comfortably. Switch positions and places when working to prevent body ache and fatigue. Schedule breaks every hour or two to reduce screen-time and subsequent headaches. Even schedule a short nap in the afternoon to relax after the first half of the day.
Listen to your body and work accordingly.
Going back to work after a 14-day-long break can be intimidating, especially if you’re worried about how to dive into responsibilities. Keep in mind that your health comes first, and there’s always a workaround in case your recovery isn’t as expected. So, breathe, and take your first step into returning to normal work life after COVID.
Updated 12 August 2021
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