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Think You’re Ready to Return to the Office? Read This First

For the past 18 months, we’ve been thinking about ways organizations can adapt in the face of tremendous change. And here we are, on the cusp of a return to the “old normal.” Offices are reopening.   

Call a friend, visit with family, chat with someone at the coffee shop and ask them what their organization is planning to do. You’ll get an earful. Many executives are waiting for directions from the top as the C-Suite plans the next steps. 

The stakes have never been higher for employers. The pandemic has caused what some are calling ‘The Great Resignation’, with mid-career workers seeking new opportunities, and some have left the workforce altogether to take care of children or family members. This has caused some companies to raise wages and insist employees take time off to mitigate burnout and drive loyalty. 

In the middle of the pandemic, leaders had to show empathy and be thoughtful about the way they led their organization. Executives had to navigate remote work, furloughs, lay-offs, and the list goes on. 

As we face a new set of changes, those same leaders and executives must carefully approach what’s to come. 

For employers — looking ahead  

Employers can’t expect their business to return to the way it ran in the first quarter of 2020. The world has changed more in the past year and a half than the decade before, and the workplace is no exception. 

There is no one set of rules that will work for every business. 

Instead, as Former Publicis executive Rishad Tobaccowala says, “it will be a jigsaw puzzle of different approaches for different people, different roles, different markets, and it will be a work in progress with many benefits and challenges.” 

Employers can stop saying “going back” to the office, and instead switch it with “moving forward” to emphasize that the new picture of work will not just be a return to the old way of going about things. Instead, Tobaccowala hypothesizes, it will likely include a four-pronged approach to the workspace:  

Working from home. 

Because it eliminates commuting, this provides savings of time and money. Additionally, the resumption of schools in the Fall will allow the home to remain a place of significant productivity. 

Distributed work pods.

The leasing of co-working spaces like WeWork will allow employees that live near each other to work together and escape to the monotony of working from home. 

Periodic events/experiences.

Company dinners, retreats, and other events will allow co-workers to bond, and establish a company culture that has diminished as a result of the pandemic. 

The ‘old’ office.

This option can be used for important client meetings, employee training, and offices for senior management. Most employees will spend less than half their time in the old office. 

Another option is the must-discussed hybrid model. In this approach, employees return to the office some of the time. If your organization decides to go hybrid, you do not need to use a blanket methodology for the entire company.  

Give departments, practice areas, teams, and segments of your organization to decide what works best for their people. One department may require employees work face-to-face three days a week. Others may allow teammates to make the decision week-to-week.  

That’s the beauty of the hybrid model, it can evolve as your people find their rhythm.  

For employees — looking forward

Employees, like their managers, may be feeling some anxiety about returning to the office, albeit for different reasons. After becoming used to working from home, most enjoyed the lack of commute and flexibility that remote work provided. People changed the way they fundamentally looked at work and how they managed time. 

And many of those people prefer the new way of living. 

One employee who works at a major financial services firm said, “I would be okay with a couple of days in the office and the rest at home, but I am certainly not looking to go back to five days a week in the office.” 

If you’re feeling this way, set up a time to talk to your manager to determine what is best for you and the company. If a company refuses to compromise with your desires, it might be time to consider looking elsewhere. 

Before you decide to become part of The Great Resignation, take the time to seriously ask yourself how you want to work. Now you have data points about your productivity while working remotely. Make sure to highlight these accomplishments on your resume.   

The workplace of tomorrow  

Just like we adapted to working from home, we can adapt to a new work experience that is bound to reveal itself in the coming months. 

It’s important not to look at this new adaptation of the modern workspace as a step backward, but as an innovation that inspires increased productivity and keeps employees happy amidst record-high turnover rates. 

With everything that we’ve battled these past 18 months, we’ve come out on the other side more resilient.