Blog,  Mental Health

Going back to the Lab after COVID

As more people get vaccinated, many employers are beginning to bring workers back to the office after more than a year of working from home. Although many Ph.D. students continued their lab work throughout the pandemic, there is a mixed reaction to resume office duties on site.

Some welcome the idea of collaborating with colleagues in person and swapping their makeshift home office for a dedicated workspace, while others are worried they will lose certain advantages and be less safe if they shift away from remote work.

What is keeping Ph.D. students from fully returning to the lab and office and how can we ease the transition?


Some Ph.D. students may be struggling in their return to the workplace and present signs of emotional impact.

These could include changes in performance and productivity, such as missing deadlines, calling in sick frequently, absenteeism, irritability and anger, difficulty concentrating and making decisions, withdrawal from work activity, and difficulty with work transitions or changes in routines.

Loss of flexibility

On top of health and safety concerns, many Ph.D. students also worry about losing the benefits of working remotely. While some are eager to return to normal, others express a desire for a hybrid work model going forward.

Social Anxiety

Safety concerns over fully returning to the office, making social distancing significantly more difficult is also a major source of stress. As a result, many have questions on whether there will be new safe-at-work training, requirements, and guidelines for all employees to follow.

Ways to ease the transition

Practice self-care

Even as you work to make the transition easier, returning to the office may feel overwhelming at times. Don’t forget to take care of yourself and follow a healthy routine with timely meals, consistent sleep timings, and set aside breaks at work at regular intervals during work hours.

Be mindful of warning signs of stress, such as shortness of breath, headaches, heaviness in your chest, raised heart rate, and general body aches, and take steps to address it in real-time.

Set working expectations

Whether you’re returning to the office full time or just a few days per week, the disruption to your daily routine can feel daunting.

While it is hard to give up the flexibility and ease of working from home, resuming work in the office can help curb the loneliness many experienced during the lockdown, fewer distractions that reduce your productivity, and a firmer boundary between your work and home life.

Talk to your boss to see if you can continue clocking in remotely—at least for a portion of the week—so you can maintain some flexibility if it has been working for you.

Socialize at your own pace

It’s normal to feel some social anxiety when thinking about going back to the office and interacting with a group of coworkers. Taking a gradual approach to socialize can help ease the transition!

Connect with individuals or smaller groups of people first before moving on to interactions with an entire team.

Start building your support network at work again and specifically prioritize spending time with coworkers who are supportive and get along well with you.

Keep in mind the safety precautions of the pandemic and figure out what feels comfortable to you when socializing with coworkers.

Seek help if you need to!

If you see the warning signs of stress or if your feelings are too much to bear, seek help!

Karolinska Institutet offers stress management and mental health support through the Student Health Center.

Contact them via email at:  [email protected]

Or schedule a consultation through telephone: +46 (0)8-524 835 70