Returning to the Office
Following a long (third) lockdown and a generally successful COVID vaccination program, cases are low and businesses are slowing opening up. With Johnsons 'COVID roadmap' set to have things almost back to 'normal' on the 21st June people are beginning to have hope for the future. While it may not be business as usual offices are slowing opening up and after over a year of working from home (with perhaps an occasional visit to the office) people are enjoying seeing their colleagues again.
What used to be a chore is now a treat for many. While working from home was good at first many people started getting tired of not having a reason to leave the house. With most places closed, many felt trapped in their homes, only leaving for exercise or shopping. Nothing was making people leave the house so sometimes they didn't. People begun doing 'fake commutes' to ensure they left the house and to keep some sort of routine. Staying motivated in the middle of all this chaos with your family/housemates distracting or annoying you and not having your colleagues around you to motivate you has made working from home everyday tedious. Many people would be keen to continue to have some days working from home and some days working in the office.
Despite all the struggles the pandemic provided us with it also taught us many useful lessons about the workplace which we think should continue. One of these lessons was the time involved in commuting to and from work. People found they had many 'extra' hours thanks to a lack of a commute. Some commutes are better than others and while many see it as a waste of time where you are neither working or enjoying 'free time' you can find ways to make it better for you. Whether that's listening to an audiobook, walking or cycling instead of using public transport or a car or even parking a bit further away or getting off a stop early to get some extra steps in and fresh air. Try and find a way to make your commute more valuable which works for you.
A second lesson is the ease and importance of one-on-ones. With working from home and online communication it made it easier for people to have discreet conversations. This makes it easier for any conflicts to be resolved before they escalate. This can be hard to continue in the office however there are ways to make it easier. You could create additional private or semi-private areas which are easy to book last minute or drop into. Also wherever possible try and schedule more regular one-on-one sessions with all employees as this will minimize unwanted attention. Similarly, we have learnt the importance of intentional check-ins. A simple, 'how are you?' as you pass someone in the corridor is not enough. A deliberate meeting to get below the surface and really find out how they are really doing. The pandemic has been a real turning point in the awareness of the importance of mental health especially in the work place. Schedule meetings to check-in with people you work with and try your best to get them to be open and honest.
Another practice to continue is the ability to work undisturbed. As nice as it is to see your colleagues it can be frustrating when your in the 'zone' and someone asks if you have a moment or disturbs you in some way. To help reduce this in the office schedule a time where no meetings can be organised and people focus on their own work without disturbing others. Notifications may be turned off during this time so allow for messages to be briefly ignored.
The pandemic has also taught trust between employees and managers. Thanks to the forced trust from working from home and employees still getting the work done they need to employers know they can trust their employers to get the work done. Employers need to continue to set specific goals and targets, trusting that their employers will get it done and employers need to continue to keep their employers trust. Finally, as people head back to the office it is important to keep the work-life balance. Ensure you and your employees keep some sort of work-life balance despite the loss of time due to the added commute.
The return of the office is a sign of hope that things are slowly heading back to normal. If your office is open then so are other offices and indoor areas. After the long winter lockdown which everyone found hard at one point or another people are glad of any sign of normality, being able to see friends and family again and having hope for the future. The pandemic has been tough but lessons have been learnt from it and these lessons need to stay with us once the pandemic is over. We hope that if you are back in the office you are enjoying seeing your colleagues again or even meeting them in person for the first time.