Cosmopolitan (UK)

How to say NO

to your boss and other post-wfh ob dilemmas, sorted


As offices reopen, we show you how to maximise the pros and mitigate the cons ›

For lots of office workers, 2020 was the year “WFH” ousted “BYOB” from the most-used-abbreviati­on top spot, but after months of taking meetings from the kitchen table, many are now facing another seismic shift as their offices reopen. While it’s welcome in some ways (hello, indulgent Pret lunches), it can also be a daunting prospect, with a lot of pressure to embrace the “new normal” seamlessly. So what can you do to make the transition work for you? We’re here to help – yes, we’ll even show you how to tell your boss in person that you can’t take on that extra project…

Make the most of… FACE TIME WITH YOUR BOSS

For people who haven’t seen their boss IRL for ages, this is a chance to remind them what you bring to work. It’s important to be strategic, says Harriet Minter, career coach and author of WFH (Working From Home): How To Build A Career You Love When You’re Not In The Office. “If you’re in a hybrid workspace [a mix of office working and working from home] where not everyone’s going to be in the office at the same time, try to do at least half a day [each week] with your boss,” she suggests. “Organise a catch-up over coffee, or suggest lunch if you’ve got a good relationsh­ip.”

Use the time to show off your ideas – you might want to pitch that project you’ve been dreaming up. “Your enthusiasm is going to come across a lot more when you’re face-to-face than it will do over a video call,” says Minter. “Prep so you’re ready with what you want to say – you won’t necessaril­y have as much time to chat as you might have if you were all in the office five days a week.”


Even with Zoom socials, WFH can be a lonely business. Office working offers a chance to feel a stronger connection to our colleagues again.

“At heart, we’re all social beings and we want to collaborat­e,” explains Elizabeth Uviebinené, author of The Reset: Ideas To Change How We Work And Live. “I believe the future of work includes people tapping into that community spirit – coming together, working out people’s values and building a community within work.”

This could involve anything from book clubs to cooking classes, and while it’s the role of senior staff and HR to foster a good company culture, you could take it into your own hands to set up activities that allow colleagues to get to know each other.

According to Uviebinené, the first step is to get talking. “Otherwise, how are you going to learn that your colleague loves sci-fi films, too? It’s so important that people ask questions.”

Make the most of... LEARNING FROM OTHERS

The return to the office is a great opportunit­y to get back in the loop with colleagues in other department­s. You could arrange to spend time sitting near and having meetings with teams you haven’t spoken to in a long time. “Find out what they’ve been up to and what’s interestin­g in their department, because that might be something you want to move into or work with later on,” advises Minter.

As well as learning about other people’s projects and thinking about the bigger picture, you can maximise office time to get different perspectiv­es on your work, too.“If you’re working on a client project and it’s really interestin­g, but you’d like another team’s feedback on it, say to them: ‘I’m going to be in the office, I would love to talk to you about this project, can we find a time to do that?’” suggests Minter. “Be really clear about what the project is, what you need help on, what you think they can bring, and how long it’s going to take. Use that as proper collaborat­ion time so you’re not going into the office just to answer your emails.”


A quick scroll through postlockdo­wn Instagram will show you endless photos of people having a whale of a time now that we’re allowed to, y’know, go outside. But if you’re feeling anxious, don’t let that fool you into thinking that literally everyone else is super-excited. “A lot of people will find it overwhelmi­ng because many of us have been able to control our environmen­ts for quite a while, tapping out of things and adjusting our routines,” says Shahroo Izadi, behavioura­l change specialist and author of The Kindness Method.

So if a post-work sauvignon blanc at the pub next door isn’t floating your boat these days, how should you communicat­e that to your colleagues? “We rarely have the opportunit­y to check in with our habits and how they do or don’t serve us. Once you’re clear on that, you can communicat­e it to other people,” Izadi says. “More and more now, people are saying things like ‘I don’t have the stamina I had before’, or ‘I never realised how much good rest affected me as a friend, partner and employee’. Knowing yourself and what’s

best for you is rarely met with too much challenge – and often, if you’re honest and vulnerable, other people will relate.”

If being in the office generally is making you uncomforta­ble and you’d like to spend more time working from home, it’s key to be honest with your boss. Izadi says it’s all about focusing on the positives. “Show how [working from home] is benefiting you productivi­tywise,” she says. “Speak to your boss and say things like ‘I’m able to order my day differentl­y, and as a result I’m more efficient’, or ‘I’m able to incorporat­e exercise or mindful practice into my day and have more work-life balance, and as a result I’m more present with my colleagues’.”

Watch out for… THE GUILT OF SAYING “NO”

Ever worked unpaid overtime, through lunch or when you’re unwell, more to show you’re working hard rather than to be truly productive? That’s presenteei­sm, and it’s an easy work habit to fall into. Now is a good time to start setting boundaries in the office.

Minter advises being clear in your calendar about when you’re in the office and when you’re not, and sending your boss a weekly update with three things you achieved and how they made an impact. “Know what your boss’s goals are for you, then regularly and repeatedly show how you are achieving them or the steps you’re taking towards that. If we do that, we counter the necessity for presenteei­sm,” she says.

The idea of your boss catching you in the corridor and asking you to take on another piece of work you don’t have time for might seem like an impossible situation, but it doesn’t have to be. “The sentence for that is: ‘So pleased that you thought of me for that, but right now I’m at 100% capacity’,” says Minter. “If it’s something you want to do, you could say ‘I’m going to have capacity when this project finishes at this time, can it wait until then?’, or ‘I would be able to do X if I can move

Y onto someone else in the team, is that possible?’”

As for the pressure to answer work calls and emails late into the night and at weekends? “In the spirit of honesty, say: ‘I’m trying to be on my phone less now that I’m back in the office again’,” Izadi suggests. ”Remember, the snapshot your colleagues have of you will be where they left you, so it’s on you to know yourself and have those discussion­s.”

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