Why Going Back to the Office will be like the First Day Back at School
The Struggle of Going Back to Work Post-Pandemic Will be Real for Many
For many of us, going back to the office post-pandemic might be a little like the first morning of school after the holidays.
I remember those mornings well.
I had spent much of the previous few weeks in the warmth and security of the family home, surrounded by loved ones.
I slept in.
I’d make myself cheese and salami Jaffles for breakfast.
I’d sit in front of the television and play Super Mario Bros on my Nintendo.
I’d ride my bike and kick a soccer ball around with my closest friends.
School holidays were a time of freedom and almost no real responsibilities.
But then, the first day of school inevitably crept closer.
Five days to go.
Four. Three. Two. One.
It was the morning of.
Today, instead of sleeping in, I’d be waking up at 7am.
Today, instead of lounging on the couch, I’d be sitting upright at my desk.
Today, instead of being surrounded with loved ones and my closest friends, I’d have to contend with the kids at school — many of whom I didn’t like or didn’t get along with.
Today, instead of going on whatever adventures an 11-year-old mind could conjure up, I would effectively be taking orders from my teachers.
The first day back at school was always a bit of an emotional grind for me.
Sure enough, Isaac Newton’s laws of motions kicked in, and as the days rolled on I acclimatised to the new routine and normalised it.
But that first day, and the first few thereafter were tough.
Going Back to the Office
And that’s the kind of thing that so many of today’s newly remote workers will be contending with when it’s time to go back to the office.
While many of us can’t wait to get back to the office and away from kids gnawing at our feet as we’re trying to work on a presentation, others have loved working from home.
They’ve enjoyed the autonomy and freedom.
They’ve enjoyed less taps on the shoulders from colleagues.
They’ve enjoyed being able to cultivate the space to get into flow.
They’ve enjoyed spending more time with their kids and partners.
They’ve enjoyed wearing tracksuit pants, and ad-hoc walks and runs around a local park.
They’ve enjoyed the lack of commute, saving them an hour or two a day — and the sleep-in that comes with it.
For these people, having to go back to a central office, and lose all of these privileges, will be like that first day of school — an emotional shit-show!
Preparing People to Go Back to the Office
So what can leaders do to better prepare their people for this painful transition?
Consider whether you need to have people go back to the office, or whether they can work from home permanently.
According to Gartner:
- 25% of CFOs expect 10% of their employees will remain remote
- 17% expect 20% of employees will remain remote
- 4% expect 50% of employees will remain remote
- 2% expect over 50 percent of employees work remotely permanently after the pandemic subsides.
2. Part-time WFH
if working from home permanently is a bridge too far right now, perhaps offer people a day or two a week is a great place to start, especially if this was not the norm pre-pandemic.
3. Staggered return to the office
Stagger the return to work. Consider start with one day a week, then two, then three. This should make the transition much easier than going from zero to five days a week in the office after a several month hiatus.
Not only that, but doing effectively means you can split the workforce and have 20% turn up on Monday, 20% on Tuesday, 20% on Wednesday and so on. The lower headcount at the office makes it easier to practice social distancing at a time when it’s still not clear whether or not there might be a second or third wave rearing its ugly head.
Not for all Organizations…Yet.
Realistically, some organizations might get remote work and have built cultures and ways of working around doing it well.
They’ve done away with norms that date back to the industrial revolution — such as everybody being present at the same time between 9 and 5. They’ve cultivated workflows that get the very best out of their people, but also give their people the opportunity to design their days in a way that works for them.
As I wrote previously, downloading Zoom and Slack does not a remote worker make.
Other organizations aren’t quite there yet — simply mimicking the typical office workday online, complete with eight-person Zoom calls, constant interruptions — only via Slack instead, and the trademark 9 to 5 workday.
But the benefits of getting it right are obvious:
- Happier employees and less attrition
- Decreased real estate expenses
- Access to a global talent pool
- Decreased on-premise technology spend
By cultivating organizations that not only offer remote access, but do remote work well — and still offer a smaller central office for people who prefer going into a place of work — everybody wins.