Lots of conversations I’ve recently been in have turned to the subject of returning to the office or just about life feeling like it’s starting again in the UK.
This got me thinking about how we’ve all had to adapt many times over during the past 12 months and we’re about to do it again.
We all have our perceptions and it would be so easy to assume that others are thinking along the same lines….but are we really?
Stick or Twist: Work & Life
Whether you call it a ‘balance’ or a ‘blend’, this is likely to have changed for you recently. Some love working from home and others loathe it but I’m not sure that anyone wants to go back exactly to the way it was for them ‘before’.
This is as much about thinking about what you’d like to keep from recent months, as what you’d like to return to. I hear people talking about enjoying walking their children to school, enjoying losing the long commute or missing that commute time to start to unwind before you arrive home.
This all comes down to experimentation and choice for me. I used to love working from home when it was one day a week and then when five days a week was forced on me, I hated that. I ditched my office at the start of the pandemic but went stir crazy after a few months at home full-time (random drives to the petrol station just to get out!). I went back to my office a few months ago and gradually have moved to five days a week there as I seem to have lost the ability to work from home. Maybe I’ll want to change it up again in a few months, at least being self-employed, I am the master of my own destiny.
The best thing companies can do with this one is to see what people want to try and not setting this in stone.
What is the new blend of home and work that you’re looking for?
Even though in the UK we’re hoping to be living restriction free with no rules around social distancing from 21 June, does that mean that everyone will be comfortable with this? I really don’t think so.
Levels of anxiety around Covid vary massively and some people didn’t like shaking hands in the first place and definitely don’t want to be going forwards. Even that friend or colleague that we can’t wait to hug again might have changed their mind about how much personal space they want in the future. I’m not a big fan of the elbow or foot touch and I always used to hug my friends but I’m definitely experiencing the social awkwardness when I’m seeing people for the first time in ages around how we greet each other now.
Is this the end of the awkward handshake at work?
Has your need for personal space grown or shrunk recently?
Expectations of leaders
Whilst lots of companies are giving people choices about how many days they’ll work from the office, I also keep hearing that there are ‘expectations’ of senior leaders that they’ll come into the office and ‘represent’. This one makes me laugh as if the company stance was truly about choice, leaders would role-model this by making their own choices so their team would see this was OK. If all of the senior leaders are in, the only expectation this will set is that the preference is that everyone comes in.
The choices that leaders make will set the tone for everyone else so what example are you looking to set?
Ways of working
I’ve had a new team member, Sally, join me during the last few months and we’ve been looking forward to being able to physically work together from June. This last week though, a little voice in my head has started to question how much I’ll be able to concentrate with someone else next to me. I’ve got so used to working on my own and I know how crap I am around distractions that I’m actually not sure how I’ll deal with this. This is coming from the person who allows their cat to distract them which was a major driver to getting an office again!
I spoke to Sally about this and shared that I’m not sure how I’m going to deal with distractions so we’re just going to give it a go and see how we get on. It might be that we need a different kind of office space, so we’ve said that we’ll experiment and keep talking about it.
Team development workshops over Zoom have been great as everyone is on the same level and it’s easy for us to interact. But what about if some people start joining from an office together and some are still dialling in from home? For some teams, a mix of remote and office working is normal, particularly when they’re in different countries.
I’ve been on too many calls in the past with several people crowded round a phone or a camera and then others dialling in on their own. That poor person on their own struggles to hear the conversation over the background noise and too many people talking at once so I’m not sure I want to go back to this.
This makes me think that I need to start talking to clients about how they want to play this before we get surprised by it.
How are you and your team going to cope with hybrid meetings?
Lots of people have joined businesses over the last 12 months, so their only experience of their team is a virtual one. The crowd seems split on this one too: some people can’t wait to meet in person and have a beer and for others, this is bringing up anxiety of feeling ‘new’ again and building up to their first day in office.
This is going to be a period of adjustment and as someone said: “I don’t even know how tall everyone is when they’re on camera only” – my favourite observation so far. I haven’t worried about eating garlic for months, but I guess I’ll have to re-think that, otherwise Sally might not last long in the office with me!
There’s definitely an element of re-boarding here that needs to be thought about, so we don’t overwhelm people who are feeling new again.
What do you plan to do differently for people who’ve never been to the office?
Will you still be ‘inducting’ them?
The golden rules should be:
- Ask people the right questions to find out how they’re feeling and
- Don’t assume that everyone has the same mindset as you.