Will the return to the office be any fun?

Written by Peter Cosgrove

October 5, 2021

A man and woman are out on a date and the man just keeps talking about himself for the entire lunch. By the end of the lunch the woman is frustrated, and she says, why are you telling me all this? His response – because I want to get to know you! This failure to listen is being played out in many businesses right now as people return to the office. The policies and the direction are in place, but many have forgotten to listen to what the employees want from office life. Here are three challenges most employees will face with the transition to office life.

We will not all be back together. We have lost the network effect of us all being in the office together. Without good planning, you can end up coming into the office on days where your colleagues, friends, or teammates are still at home. This means you continue to have virtual meetings despite sitting at your work desk. Coming back to work was meant to be all about meeting everyone again but the reality is currently somewhat different.

Masks social distancing and protocols. While we may be feeling that Covid is in the rear-view mirror nothing about the workplace would suggest it just yet. Given the workplaces need to have health and safety protocols, there is still mask wearing, rules on how may can be in a room at the same time and many other protocols which just lead to a sterile atmosphere and not what employees want or were expecting on their return.

The work is the same so why am I here. We imagined that as we returned to the office, we were going to arrive at this social space filled with innovation, laughter and everyone would be hanging around water coolers. I think this nostalgia is probably mis-placed. We forgot that many of us are swamped in projects, emails and back-to-back meetings. Therefore, many employees have come into to the office and are frustrated that the day seems very similar to what they would have been doing working from home. This leads to the inevitable question – why did I bother to coming into the office?

What can employers do about this?

Firstly, it is no secret that fully remote companies are very good at getting their employees together regularly, but they put time and effort into ensuring it is a collaborative, fun, idea-driven day and certainly not a day of normality. Employers need to realise that just getting people back into the office or redesigning your office space will not lead to change in itself, you need to think how you can encourage behavioural changes and not just expect them to happen.

More importantly, employers need to continue to communicate to their employees, get feedback on their experiences so far. Employers need to let them know that this is a transition phase and not the way work will be forever. With any experimentation it is about iterating and changing things, therefore empower your employees to see how the office can work at its best for them. As George Bernard Shaw could have said to the man at the top of the page “the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place”

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