Experiment as You Return to the OfficeApr 27, 2022
- By Sophie Pinkoski
Between the 18th and 19th centuries, the Industrial Revolution introduced the workforce to machine innovations and the traditional 9 to 5 work day. Then, the Second World War expanded opportunities for women in the workforce like never before.
Now, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought us into a whole new working era the likes of which we haven’t seen in decades.
Arguably, we can’t go back to the office as we once knew it; we’ve collectively experienced too much and have proven what we’re capable of while working remotely. Yet organizations are still eager to see their workers back in the office for many reasons including preserving company culture, encouraging collaborations, monitoring progress, and preventing individuals from being overlooked for development opportunities.
Before heading straight back into our old familiar ways, we deserve to apply what we’ve learned from working during the pandemic.
If 2021 was expected to be a return to stability with the introduction of hybrid work, 2022 should be a year of experimentation as we learn how to work in an ongoing and post-pandemic world.
After all, our hybrid work solutions are far from perfected, and can still use time to grow. We should be prioritizing the organic evolution of hybrid models rather than going straight back into the office. But with large companies like Apple and Google determined to return to the office as recently as March 2022 following several delays, other companies will follow suit. Fortunately, there are ways to return to the office in a mindful way:
Flexibility – Convincing people to return to the office after giving them options catered to their unique situation is going to be a particular challenge. We’ve proven that it is possible to work from home and maintain productivity levels all the while.
People are going to be reluctant to give up their newfound autonomy in favour of long commutes and the health risks that come with returning to public spaces again.
In fact, according to an Ipsos survey for the World Economic Forum, a third of 12,500 workers internationally would rather quit than return to the office full time. Similarly, two-thirds prefer to see further flexibility in the future. Thus far, return-to-office plans have gone awry, and with multiple COVID waves and variants now, it’s challenging for workers to go through the rollercoaster of shifting back and forth between full time remote and office work.
Certainty – Of the six human needs, certainty is key. Giving people a sense of certainty and predictability helps them build resilience in the face of uncertainty. You can do so by maintaining clear communications with your team on how, when, and why you expect them to return to the office. Explain the decisions you’ve made and what you intend to do to keep the workplace safe. Be transparent with your safety protocols. These communications should be a continuous dialogue to keep your team up to date on any new developments and changes as they come about. When your team feels well informed on the situation, they are better equipped to evaluate and articulate what is best for their individual needs.
Contingencies – It’s tempting to follow the lead of other companies returning to office to regain a sense of normalcy. But bee reflective to identify the most logical reason for your own team to return to office. Public health advice should take precedence. Return-to-office protocols aren’t going to be one size fits all. The reality is that every location has different COVID considerations, just as every individual has their own health risks. Not everyone will be able to return to the office due to personal health concerns or that of loved ones within their immediate bubble. Be prepared to roll back return-to-office plans where necessary if COVID numbers rise or a new variant is spread. Explain why you’re pivoting and how those new plans appropriately address the latest health mandates.
Plan for now, not for when things improve – For so long now, we’ve been expecting a return to the office to be inevitable; that there would be a measurable end date for the pandemic. Unfortunately, we have no crystal ball to predict when this will end. Is there is an end in sight?
It’s better to stop anticipating a return to "normal" that may never happen and focus on adapting to the situation at hand and the many possible consequences that may come with it.
If anything, a return to office should be seen less as a marathon and more as a purposeful stroll. As Mark Ein of Kastle Systems suggests, “it’s going to take a very, very long time before you see return to the office at the same level as you’ve seen return to other parts of life”. Be open to experimentation. The process of returning to the office is going to be complex with plenty of bumps in the road along the way. The best we can do is prepare as sensibly as possible to keep everyone’s health and safety in mind.
Why a Wide Scale Return to Office is a Myth, BBC Worklife
The Return-to-Office Quandary, The New Yorker
Home or Office? Survey Shows Opinions About Work After Covid-19, World Economic Forum
Is Finding a ‘New Normal’ in the Workplace Possible? BBC Worklife
The 6 Biggest Lessons About Work From 2021, BBC Worklife
How Employers are Navigating Return-to-Office Plans, Benefits Canada
When New Covid Variants Upend Your Return-to-Office Plans, Harvard Business Review