It’s a hot topic: When are you returning to the office? But career coach Jeff Knight says it should be: how are you returning to the office, not when.
The answer will vary by organisation. Some smaller firms are already back, whereas some big institutions are a long way off.
There is talk of a hybrid approach – some days in the office, some days at home. I have even heard that some firms are not calling it an office anymore, it’s a “hub” for employees to connect, inform, engage and work with each other.
Remember your school days?
As organisations develop plans for staff to return to the office, there are two important questions: How likely is it that staff even want to return and what must leaders do to make the return less daunting and more productive?
Whilst bosses have been thinking about their offices, employees have been rethinking how and where they get their work done. They have formed new routines and habits with a preference to the flexibility of school pickups, lunch time gym sessions and early morning walks. There will be those who want to hang on to these.
Going back to the office will disrupt this. It’s like going back to school after the summer holidays when you could do what you wanted (or so you thought). Going back to school was a horrid thought, until you got there because of one thing: human interaction.
A bit of banter
With humans there is banter, but you don’t get that as much of that spontaneous humour working from home.
Banter is good for the soul, for morale and for creative thinking. Banter helps form relationships which build trust as well as productive and profitable workforces. Successful companies need banter.
I am not suggesting that we spend all day bantering, but a little bit is vital to our wellbeing. Work-banter balance.
Trust is the heart of it
Staff are dealing with the pandemic in different ways. They will have different mindsets and different challenges. The key is to ensure strong communication to build relationships and trust.
You need to remind staff of that life in the office wasn’t so bad. Get them prepared for the return. Show empathy and listen to their concerns.
Remember that first day back at school? You felt a bit lost. The day was long. You went home not really knowing what homework was given to you. Therefore, you need to create a “return to office experience” to ensure staff know what to expect and what is expected of them.
It is what it is
The world has changed and that sudden exit from the office in March 2020 gave us all a jolt. Yet the way we worked in offices was outdated. We are moving to a new era where we will see a hybrid approach of homeworking and office-based working. Leaders need to ensure employees adapt to this new normal. Trust and good, old-fashioned banter will have a big part to play in this.