A woman in a wheelchair working from home

How to deal with WFH FOMO if you’re not returning to the office

Posted by for Mental Health

Feeling left behind in your decision to continue working from home as lockdown restrictions ease? Here’s how to handle it.

As lockdown restrictions ease and the UK’s vaccine rollout continues, there’s been a lot of talk about the process of returning to the office, either full-time or as part of a hybrid arrangement.

However, returning to the office isn’t top of everyone’s to-do list. While some have found working from home challenging for their mental health, others have found that remote working offers a wide range of benefits for themselves and their careers.

“For many people with disabilities – myself included – working from home enables us to work more comfortably and effectively,” explains Liz Johnson, a Paralympian and workplace inclusion expert. “The flexibility of remote work also benefits those with longer commutes, parents with young children, people with caring responsibilities and those with different or additional needs.”

It’s also worth noting that many people don’t feel comfortable returning to the office just yet, whether because they’re not fully vaccinated, because of social anxiety, or simply because they don’t want to.

“Not all of us will be rushing back into the office as soon as the doors open,” Johnson adds.

Just because many people won’t be returning to the office at the same time as their colleagues, however, doesn’t mean they won’t feel like they’re missing out on the social and career benefits that come with office life – especially if most of their colleagues have opted to head in.

Liz Johnson
Liz Johnson is a workplace inclusion expert and Paralympian who has been able to work more comfortably and efficiently outside the office.

So, what can you do if you find yourself in this position? WFH FOMO is real – but there are steps you can take to make things a little easier and deal with any feelings of guilt or anxiety you might be experiencing as a result. 

Here, Johnson shares her top tips for managing your FOMO and making the most of your new arrangement.  

1. Write down the reasons why WFH is best for you

As you see your colleagues returning to the office, it’s hard not to start doubting your decisions and wonder whether you should go back after all. However, if WFH best suits you and your needs, it’s important to stick to your decision.

To make doing this a little easier, Johnson explains, try reminding yourself of why you’ve made the decision to continue working remotely.

“There will always be others with their own equally valid reasons for favouring the office,” she says. “It’s easy to let these overshadow your own, particularly as talk of office life ramps up.”

Johnson continues: “To prevent self-doubt from creeping in, write down all the reasons why you made your decision to continue working from home. For people with disabilities, it might be to avoid the trauma of inaccessible public transport and offices; for parents, it might be to fit childcare around work; for those who live outside of London, it might be to avoid long commutes.

“Whatever makes it onto your list, keep it handy so you can stay focused on you and remember all the benefits of being remote whenever the self-doubt creeps in.” 

2. Be honest about how you’re feeling

When you’re dealing with difficult emotions, it’s all too easy to bottle things up and end up feeling isolated as a result. Taking the time to share your experience with others should make things easier, Johnson says.

“It’s easy to become overwhelmed and isolated by your anxieties if you don’t voice them,” she explains. 

“Unfortunately, it’s also particularly easy to bottle things up and for others to miss warning signs when you’re working remotely. But, despite the distance, your line managers and close colleagues should still be there for you when you need them; that is, if you tell them how you’re feeling.”

If you don’t yet feel comfortable sharing how you’re feeling with your colleagues, you could also talk to your friends or family about your experience, or seek out others who are also in your position – no matter who you’re sharing with, it’s bound to help.

“Whatever you do, don’t suffer in silence,” Johnson recommends. “Being honest about your feelings will help you to stay connected.” 

3. Be proactive about raising your hand

One of the biggest concerns you might have about working from home is being left out when it comes to potential connections and work opportunities. To deal with this, Johnson suggests, make sure you’re making a conscious effort to put yourself forward.

“It’s true that watercooler conversations and lunch dates can lead to connections and promotions, but working from home needn’t make you invisible,” she explains. “Be proactive about putting yourself forward and making your voice heard to ensure that you don’t miss out on any opportunities. Remember that you’re perfectly entitled to work from home, and that physical presence is not an indicator of ‘good’ work or productivity (lockdown has well and truly debunked that old myth).”

Johnson continues: “If you genuinely suspect that being remote is damaging your career progression, you should raise your concerns with HR.” 

A woman working from home
Putting yourself forward for opportunities and speaking up about your needs will help you to stay visible.

4. Make the most of your WFH arrangement

Working in the office may have its perks, but so does working from home! Try to remember this and make the most of those perks when you’re feeling left out.

“Whilst these freedoms and perks – such as the money you save by not commuting, the time you gain in the mornings and evenings and luxurious homemade lunches – may have been novel at the start of the pandemic, you’re not alone if you’ve started to take them for granted,” Johnson says.

“From now on, make a conscious effort to use any time and money you’ve gained to do more of the things that you love: start your day with a yoga session; walk your dog at lunch; or visit a friend in the evening.

“Remote work hasn’t always been so readily available, so make the most of it!”

5. Remember that you can change your mind

Just because you’re not ready or don’t want to return to the office just yet, doesn’t mean the option is entirely off the table, especially if your employer is encouraging flexible working.

“If when everyone else is back in the office you begin to have second thoughts, remember that it’s not too late to join them and be comforted by this thought next time you’re hit why WFH FOMO,” Johnson recommends.

“Employers who are flexible enough to accommodate remote work should continue to be understanding of your needs as they inevitably evolve.”

Want to continue working remotely as lockdown restrictions ease, but not sure how to broach the subject with your employer? Check out this guide. Alternatively, if you’re interested in learning more about a hybrid arrangement (half the time in the office, half the time at home), check out this article instead

If adapting to the new world of work is taking its toll on your mental health, you’re not alone. From the isolation of being separated from colleagues and the stress of relying on technology to the threat of redundancy and the anxiety of applying for a new job, there are a number of reasons why you might find this time particularly challenging.

So, what can we do about it? We’ve got a plan.

Stylist’s Work It Out campaign, supported by Mind, aims to give you the tools and resources you need to take care of your mental health at work. From completing your Work 5 A Day to dealing with issues including anxiety, loneliness and stress, we’ll be exploring all aspects of work-related wellbeing, whether you’re working from home, adopting a hybrid arrangement or planning on going back to the office full-time.

For more information, including how to complete your Work 5 A Day, you can check out our guide to getting started.

Sign up for the latest news and must-read features from Stylist, so you don't miss out on the conversation.

By entering my email I agree to Stylist’s Privacy Policy

Images: Amy Mace/Getty

Share this article

Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.