What will it take to get us all back in the office?

One of the main topics of conversation that everyone is having these days is the return to the office, and what that will look and feel like for both the employees and the employers. It’s all over the news; the government is debating when they should relax the work from home order; and different CEOs are filling the headlines with their own opinions about remote working. 

The extreme remote working conditions we have endured over the past 12 months have no doubt presented us with positive aspects, but it has also brought with it some challenges.

We’ve seen brilliant examples of teams working effectively, with virtual brainstorming exercises and training sessions. There are also many brands that have quickly and effectively adapted their operating models and developed new products for their customers.

However, people have reported a drop in productivity since lockdown measures kicked in, and we have also seen an increase in the levels of burn out, isolation and disconnect. The lines are blurred now between work and life and many of us are struggling to shut down. Despite all of this, work demands continue to increase.

When you strip away all the social benefits that are attached with the office environment, you are effectively left with a screen, endless tasks and a constant stream of one-dimensional video interactions. So, it’s no surprise that many professionals are reassessing their career health and deciding to hunt for a new job despite the uncertainty in the job market.

So, there is an argument that coming back into the office is good for everyone. And yes, it is… but!

Let’s not forget that we have all adopted a new set of habits in relation to how we work throughout the day. This will shine a light on the purpose of the office over the next 18 months.
Many of us are on different spectrums of fear in relation to the pandemic. This will affect the number of interactions we each want to have and the amount of space we want to occupy.
Additionally, physical, mental and career health are all taking centre stage with many people walking out if they feel their organisation is not taking steps to look after them.

In effect, the dynamic between the employer and the employee has changed and the employee is now calling the shots.

All this presents leaders and CEOs with a big dilemma when it comes to encouraging people back into the office:

  • how do they do this ethically and inclusively while retaining their culture? and
  • how do they make sure they take the wellbeing of their people into account, both in and out of the office?

Now, more than ever, it’s vital that leaders take a very measured approach and put the employee’s expectations at the heart of any decisions they make relating to the design of the space, and the design of their people policies. The risk of not doing so is too high.

It is going to be an interesting 18 months ahead of us. I am excited to see how it all pans out.


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