More than a year has gone by since the world officially shut down, and if this pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that we adapt. We keep moving forward. We adopt a new normal. For many people, working from home became the norm, and after a year of setting new routines and getting into new habits, the thought of going back to work seems, well, bizarre. Of course, there are benefits of returning to the office but the transition has the potential to be pretty rocky. Let’s face it. Things are different now. There’s no such thing as simply going back to the way things were. Similar to the adjustments experienced during the early days of remote work, employers and employees will need to readjust to onsite work environments. Here are a few things to consider as you ramp up to return to the office.
Be Flexible & Understanding
This tip is for employers and employees. Everyone’s work-from-home experience is different. With different experiences, comes different expectations. Some are eager to return to the schedule and environment of the office, but others are going to have a more difficult time adjusting to the rigors of office life. According to a series of studies across 10 countries, social isolation was a major drawback from spending every day at home. This will therefore likely be the biggest draw to come back to work, even for those people who have become attached to this new way of life. However, first and foremost, employers need to understand that everyone’s been through their own version of crazy, and a little empathy will go a long way. As you start building a new work environment, listen to the needs of your people. As an employee, it will be important to not only be honest and open when communicating your hopes for the new workplace, but it’s also important to keep your eyes open to the needs of your colleagues.
Immediately reinstating the 40-hour onsite work week policy, even for small groups, may not be the best course of action. Expecting employees to fall right back in a typical routine after living and working during an anything-but-typical year will most likely have an adverse effect on their performance and productivity. During the early stages of onsite reentry, employers can maintain high levels of employee productivity by implementing alternating shifts (ex. Group A works onsite every Monday and Wednesday while Group B works every Tuesday and Thursday and there is no onsite work on Fridays) to give everyone the opportunity to better adjust to onsite working.
Get People Together
Since workplace camaraderie is one of the biggest benefits of returning to the office, one thing to consider is structuring a group-work model for some of the more substantial projects. Not only does this encourage the connections people crave, but if done efficiently, it could also help establish a sense of purpose that is sometimes lacking when an individual sees only their own contribution to a project. When you can see not only how your piece fits into the business’s puzzle, but also how important each piece is to the work of your colleagues, the work itself has more meaning. It’s vital that everyone maintains a high level of individual accountability as well as individual recognition for jobs well done. Group projects, if we remember them from school (and I think we all do) can breed resentment when each person doesn’t do their fair share. Assigning group work takes strong leadership, but the rewards can be enormous if people are inspired to share, communicate, and innovate.
While most people can identify at least a couple of benefits of returning to the office, the elephant in the room for employers and employees is that it’s simply not going to be the same. It won’t be as easy as just dropping the people back in their seats and going on as if nothing has changed. The markets are different. The clientele is different, the needs of consumers are different, and even financial stability looks different. The good news is that change is often a really good thing. Everyone should expect the workplace to have morphed into something new. This can be exciting for everyone involved, and as leaders prepare to be active listeners and motivators, workers prepare to bring new energy and innovation. Opportunity knocks, and the literal doors are opening.