Supporting your return to campus-based working

Over the coming weeks, as we welcome more students back to Sheffield, we will gradually be enabling more people to return to their normal work locations on campus. If you have been working remotely for some time, it’s quite natural to feel a combination of both excitement and nervousness about this transition. Please find below some advice about how to manage these feelings along with some suggestions about how to re-familiarise yourself with the campus.

If you feel that you would work more productively back on campus or are struggling to work at home, you can speak to your manager to discuss what options are available for spending some time working on campus. This activity will be risk assessed against our process for safe on-campus working.

This is the first step to gradually enabling more people to return to their normal work locations, albeit at a reduced capacity and frequency, in line with government guidance.

Of course, many colleagues have been working on campus full time or on a regular basis during the pandemic and we are extremely grateful for everything they have done.

For those of you who have been working remotely for some time, and in many cases, for over a year, it’s quite natural to feel a combination of both excitement and nervousness about the prospect of returning to your normal work location.

Although bringing people back will be a gradual process, if you have any concerns or anxieties at all about this transition, please talk with your line manager. It is really important we continue to have open and honest conversations to discuss what for many of us is likely to feel like a big change following a prolonged period of remote working.

As well as having these conversations, we encourage you to use the summer period to re-familiarise yourself with the campus and get used to the idea of returning in line with our longer term plans around hybrid working in a timeframe that works for your department, role and you.

You could take some first steps by speaking to people you know who’ve been working on campus throughout the pandemic, or by simply taking a walk across campus. You might even want to organise an outdoor meeting on campus with one or two colleagues following our guidance on the use of outdoor spaces at the University.

If you feel it would be helpful, you can also talk to your manager about an organised visit to your work location in order to familiarise yourself with the changed working environment and the safety precautions in place.

Safety on campus

We take your safety extremely seriously and we are following the same three step process for safe on-campus working that we’ve used for research and teaching activity, based around a building assessment, risk assessment and 20 per cent capacity limits managed locally within individual departments, as well as our Covid-19 returning to campus mandatory training. We strongly recommend that everyone working on campus makes regular use of our Covid-19 Testing Centre or undertakes regular home testing.

Share your experiences

To help provide reassurance to colleagues who may be feeling a little anxious, we’d like to share your experiences about returning to spend some time on campus. If you’re someone returning for the first time in a while and would like to share your story, we'd love to hear from you. Drop us a quick email and we'll get back to you with further details.


Ask an expert

Have you got a question, a concern, or anything you would like to know more about in relation to the return to campus-based working?

Let us know and we’ll share your questions with the relevant University experts for an answer. 

Ask your question via this quick Google form

A short video developed by our University Counselling Service and Student Access to Mental Health Support team designed to help colleagues and students who are anxious about coming back into work on campus.

See video transcript

Hello, my name's Dale. This little video is for you. If you've been worried about returning to campus.

Anxiety comes in different forms for different people. But whatever yours looks like, it's probably safe to say that the pandemic hasn't helped it, given that we've had to be so careful and for so long, it's only natural you might have a response to breaking up the threads of your life and returning to work on campus.

We've lived through three lockdowns over the past year. And there's been so much uncertainty for us to deal with.

Coming back onto campus might feel daunting. And while there is no cure for the anxiety, this may bring, there are ways to support yourself when dealing with it.

The first step to managing it is to recognise what it is so that when it happens as it may do, instead of ignoring it, stop letting it build up and take over.

Noticing the first signs of it and naming it, helps to take the emotion and even some of the anxiety out of it and then put you back in control.

So what is anxiety or panic attack?

Everyone experiences feelings of anxiety and panic at certain times. It's a natural response to a stressful or dangerous situation.

Anxiety is a feeling of unease, which can range from mild to severe, and include feelings of worry and fear. Panic is the most severe form of anxiety. You may start to avoid certain situations because you fear they will trigger your anxiety and cause you to feel panic.

The symptoms of panic anxiety, a racing heart or shortness of breath, and maybe a tightness in your chest or increased sweating, clammy hands, feeling lightheaded or dizzy, shaking or trembling. And you may feel nauseous. You might also feel an impulse to run away, experience a fear of dying or being out of control. Things might feel a bit unreal.

So it was happening to you.

Your body is reacting to a perceived threat. As though you need to escape from a physical danger and so it produces large quantities of adrenaline to make your heartbeat faster, shorten your breath and make your muscles tense up to get you ready to react. Sometimes it happens in settings that are obvious like in a crowd or meeting students and colleagues for the first time. And it can seem very frightening, especially if you can't see a reason for it.

We can even begin to feel anxious at the thought of feeling anxious. Panic at the thought of a panic attack. So what can you do?

If you notice the familiar symptoms of anxiety or panic, and you are in a position to leave the room, office, lab, lecture theatre... taking a walk on campus to a shop or somewhere quiet like the park can help to make you feel calmer.

You can try to slow your breathing down by focusing on your out-breath rather than your in-breath. As if you're sighing for two or three minutes. You can ground yourself but pressing your feet firmly to the floor. And if you're sitting lean against the seat back and bring your attention to your feet and legs, letting them feel heavy.

You can look around you and notice details of the objects around you, like the carpet or the picture on the wall, to become more focused on what's happening outside of you. Rather than internally.

You can do repetitive activity, like counting backwards from 100, or clenching and unclenching your fists 100 times.

Importantly, be prepared to write out the sensations as they usually only last a few minutes and they're not dangerous.

Immediately after it, try to talk to someone about everyday things to make life feel as normal as possible, do something enjoyable like treat yourself to a snack or meal. Go for a walk in the park.

Remind yourself of things that you are good at, as this can help you connect to your inner strength. But make a decision about repeating the activity, that caused you to feel anxious or to have the panic attack, to make it feel less daunting next time.

Afterwards, it can help to regularly practise body relaxation and breathing techniques so that they come naturally when you need them.

Make positive self statements like I can calm myself or I can cope with this. This will pass.

Write down your worries as this can help to get to the root of them. And you can then make a plan to resolve the things you can and perhaps accept the things you can't.

Consider speaking to a counsellor to explore the context in which the panic attacks occur because it's sometimes associated with more general stress, loss or unexpressed feelings. Take charge of practical and helpful things like limiting your intake of caffeine, sugar, and alcohol.

But remember, a panic attack will not cause you to stop breathing or suffocate. A panic attack can cause you to faint. You will not go crazy during a panic attack.

It cannot cause you to lose control of yourself. It's not dangerous, it's not a heart attack. And it will normally stop off to two or three minutes.

I hope this helps.

Webinar: Overcoming anxiety in times of change

On Thursday 27 May, 11am–12.30pm, the NHS service, Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (Sheffield IAPT), is delivering an online session on life after lockdown. The session will cover advice and support on understanding common emotional responses to change, advice on calming down your body, support on finding a new routine and feeling more confident in returning to your usual activities.

Book your place