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Oct 11, 2021

Last word: Applying some back-to-school thinking to your office return

As many prepare for a post-summer return to the office, we recall the annual ritual of preparing for a new school year

As the last glimpses of summer weather start to fade away, and the sounds of barbecues, sprinklers and soccer chants disappear to be replaced by the crunch of fallen leaves, a familiar feeling is creeping back into our lives.

It’s not the Great Hallowe’en Countdown, nor is it the ever-earlier onslaught of pumpkin-spiced lattes. No, it is that dreaded back-to-school sensation felt by children and parents (and now workers) alike.

As academic institutions prepare for their first full year of in-person teaching, most of us are still relearning how to exist in the physical world after Covid-19. It may be a good time to apply some of that back-to-school thinking to your return to the office.


In lieu of a school uniform, consider a fall clear-out of your wardrobe. Many of us – this writer included – have become all too comfortable working from home in our comfiest sweatpants, onesies or robes (and rightly so).

Picking up a few items of any workwear will help paper over any gaps in your laundry routine as things get back up to speed. Any clothing that seemed like a good idea in the heady days of early 2020 – that ironic Wirecard baseball cap, for example – should perhaps be consigned to the big wardrobe in the sky.

Sprucing up

While parents will aim to tame their offspring’s unruly summer growth, your own September refresh need not end with a haircut alone. Though targeting the lockdown locks is a good start, you may want to consider a bold change in style.

After all, most folks really can’t remember what their colleagues or contacts look like when not viewed through a laptop camera. You may have missed the boat for anything more involved than a hair or beauty treatment, however: the so-called ‘Zoom Boom’, which led to a surge in bookings for cosmetic surgery, peaked in summer 2020 as people gambled on having sufficient recovery time before being seen in real life again.


Pens and paper may seem passé in 2021, but IR Magazine’s trend forecasters predict that offline communication will have a sudden resurgence in popularity.

Going that extra step will let your colleagues, investors and analysts know you really are considering the weight of your written words: start with a hand-penned 10Q, perhaps, before trying your luck with a fully illustrated annual report.

And if cyber-security has been a concern, decking out your entire team with individual wax seals is a good way to ensure your communications remain safe from snoopers.

People skills

For many of us, a conversation around the water cooler may feel like a distant, hazy, rose-tinted memory.

It’s important, therefore, to ease yourself back into the social setting of your office, investor event or happy hour drinks, as some things that might fly over video chat are really not going to land in real life.

Perhaps consider some dry runs of test conversations before you emerge into the cold light of day, or prepare a deck of flash cards with appropriate topics in case of emergency.

For example, do ask: how is your family? Don’t ask: how did you survive being trapped with your family for so long? And don’t forget: you can’t just mute or ‘hide camera’ your way out of an awkward situation anymore.

Emergency contacts

Turning up to your first day of school is a daunting prospect, one that many adults relive later through vivid nightmares. Turning up to your first day back in the office should be less terrifying – and cause less long-term psychological trauma – but having a clear idea of who you can call in the event of an emergency could be useful.

Whether you reach out to your junior IR team member who is a savant for remembering how to fill in ESG ratings questionnaires, your patient CFO who won’t mind running the numbers before your earnings call, or even your spouse to provide moral support, just remember: we’re all in this together.

This article was originally published in the Fall 2021 issue of IR Magazine. Click here to access the magazine.