Real Leaders

Will Businesses Coax the Work-from-Home Genie Back in the Bottle?

A high angle view of a people entering and exiting an office building through a revolving door. A slow shutter speed allows for the anonymity of the people as they quickly move through the rotating door. A cool blue cast dominates the scene.

It has been more than a year since the pandemic forced a huge swath of employers to shutter their offices and require employees to work from home. Now, the nation’s vaccine campaign has changed the course of the pandemic and many employers are ready to welcome back their workers. The question, however, is whether or not the employees will want to come?

The age of the coronavirus demonstrated that productive work can be accomplished in many cases even when employees are not on site. Workers and managers alike can no longer dispute this fact. A recent survey shows that 18 percent of those working from home would prefer to remain remote, while a plurality of workers (42 percent) would prefer a hybrid model — some days in the office and some days working from home. As business eases back into convening in-person for work, the hybrid model may become the predominant prototype — at least in the near term.

Looking ahead to life with fewer restrictions, employees who once worked exclusively from an office should begin to mentally prepare for making at least a partial return. Here are ways to ready yourself:

1. Pull your work clothes out from the back of the closet.

It’s time to discover whether the pants or skirts you have not put on for the last 12 months still fit. Did you gain the COVID 10 or slim down on the Peloton? Don’t wait until the morning that you head back to the office to find out if your clothes are office-ready.

To Do: Take a deep breath and try on your work outfits.

2. Brace yourself for the commute.

For many, the work-from-home months provided liberation from the commute to and from work. While some found it led to great leaps in productivity, others found that removing the brackets of arriving and leaving the office obscured their start and stop times. Workdays extended into evenings. Now, those captive commutes to work will resume. Think about how you intend to use the time — will you try to use it productively — catching up on phone calls or listening to podcasts — or will you need to allow yourself to unwind?

To Do: Plan how to best use the time you’ll spend commuting.

3. Brush up on your water cooler banter.

Many have missed the casual conversations at the workplace — sharing stories of weekend escapades or catching up on the latest dating gossip from the singles crowd. Others may stress about having to make small talk or forgetting a new person’s name. Get ready for all the return-to-work greetings and prepare to share over and over again your synopsis of how you coped during your months of quarantine.

To Do: Mentally prepare yourself for your re-entry into in-person office life.

4. Embark on getting the band back together.

While you and your team have shared many months of Zoom or Teams screen time, getting together in person will be momentous. Instead of diving right into the business at hand, plan ahead and do something festive to mark the occasion. Make matching T-shirts. Bring a cake. Prepare a limerick of standout pandemic moments to recite. Yes, you are back to dealing with those workmates with their quirky personalities — but you have to admit it, it is good to see them again in the flesh!

To Do: Think of one or two activities that will serve as “icebreakers” for getting back together again in person.

5. Prepare for possible hot-desking.

Among the many fallouts of the pandemic, corporate office space has been radically reduced. For example, JPMorgan Chase foresees that for every 100 employees, on average, the bank now needs seats for only 60. Dedicated desks may be a thing of the past as companies continue offering remote working — or hybrid — options. With hot-desking, you may need to reserve a desk or take whichever open one is available.

To Do: Pack light. Have laptop-will travel may be the new hybrid office model.

6. Give management a little leeway.

Managers in particular have had it rough through the months-long work-from-home phase. After all, their primary purpose is to promote collaboration among and across teams and to troubleshoot where they find declines in productivity. None of this is easily detected through teleconferencing. If managers appear over-anxious to corral their teams for in-person work, be gentle if pushing back. A compromise may take some time to sort out.

To Do: Stay flexible.

7. Expect a new normal.

Whatever the post-pandemic era brings, it will likely feel much different than the pre-pandemic days. For so many, life’s priorities have experienced a reset. And, depending on how employees perceived their company’s response to safeguarding staff through the pandemic, allegiances to employers may have morphed. Similarly, CEOs and upper management may have had to formulate new goals or restructure former operating procedures to remain solvent. Expect a time of flux and strive to ride out the course changes ahead.

To Do: Recite the mantra, “Change is good,” and keep your chin up. Remember that going back to the office will be as big an adjustment as working from home was.

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