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The Back-To-The-Office Dilemma

There have been a lot of useful opinions doing the rounds as the global working- world tackles the ‘back- to- the- office’ conundrum. As a leader of a very open, convivial team, I most definitely thought that phasing our squad back to the office would be a seamless, stress-free exercise. What with us being IT specialists, armed with the latest gadgets, tools and systems, one would think we would glide right into 2022 in our perfect hybrid, tried-and-tested hub and spoke system. Not so….The back- to- the- office matter is a real dilemma that is going to need both employer and employee to tread very carefully.

Yes, on the one side there are those who have experienced bouts of cabin fever; eager to dive straight back into a traditional office environment, traffic, lunch breaks and all; but on the other side of the paradigm there’s the not-so-keen group, who for their various reasons have become settled in their remote set up. Some are parents, who have planned their day around a school run or a netball match, others are runners, cyclists, yoga fiends, who like to slot in a session at 11am – whatever the reasons, remote working, works for them.

Team leaders are going to find that there will be a few staff members who will resist a strict back- to- the- office policy with defiance and there’s talk that companies who are enforcing the back– to the- office agenda are losing some good people. So, what do we need to do to get this right?

Compassion

Each individual in your workforce has become used to a whole new lifestyle; some are loving a renewed work-life balance, some are working unconventional hours, others who thrive in a community setting may be missing the formal 8-5 structure. Leaders and HR managers need to be mindful that each individual will react differently to the back to work scenario. Perhaps a one-on-one consultation is required, to establish what employees value the most at the office in order for them to come back freely. How much time they need to adjust, the setting up of a lift club, more flexible hours….The key here is to being open to suggestions and to listen to their needs and concerns with compassion. This is definitely no time for a ‘Do as I say’ moment.

Address the fear factor

Although many of us are feeling a little blasé about Covid, with Omicron not as severe as the previous variations, most of society is starting to drop their masks a little. This may not be the right thing to do, and we don’t know what the future of the virus holds, but we do need to understand that some people still live with a genuine fear of the virus. Reassurance that it’s okay if you still are taking it seriously, that your Covid protocols and systems are still rigorously in place, is very important. Ease the minds and understand the fear.

Easy does it

If we are honest with ourselves, the remote working scene has definitely affected our pace of work and this is not always a bad thing. We have all adjusted to a more relaxed way of doing things, rolling out of bed and into a meeting in half pyjamas, the home fridge calling every hour, getting around to doing your daily work tasks after dinner; of course there have been many cool, necessary and welcomed changes. Successful team leaders have been those who have embraced those allowances.

Going back to the office needs to be viewed as a progressive move and not a regressive one.  Find out who is game and keen, who needs some time, who wants to do two days a week to start. By being less demanding, you will build a culture of ‘where do you want me?’.

Bank on FOMO

As your eager beavers start getting the office back on track, many remote workers will start to feel left out. This FOMO syndrome can be used to your advantage as the more positive changes, meetings, sessions and camaraderie going down at the office, will leave remote team members feeling isolated; no one is in an island and all that… . I’m not saying be sly and deliberately reward only office goers with inclusivity, but make sure that your office has a new beat, one in which everyone will wish to participate.

Be careful though not to leave anyone out and be mindful of bridging the disconnection between people at the office and people working remotely. For example, if Friday drinks are back on the calendar, include everyone in the invite; make sure remote workers can tap into the office at any stage – via a video/meeting that’s plugged into the office 24/7 (and possibly at the water cooler because that’s where everything goes down). If on premises employees have catered lunches, send the remote workers a packed lunch, whatever you do make sure that both in house and work-from-home teams feel counted in.

Office makeovers

It is most likely that this hub-and-spoke or hybrid working system is going to be the new way of doing things and our office space needs to reflect this. Sharing workstations, meetings with a mix of attendees online and others via video, people isolating…it is all going to continue. Give your office a smart makeover; hell you can even downsize the office space and invest in cool workstations, the latest video meeting equipment, a great coffee machine, updated project management and communication tools.

It is crucial for you to spend time carefully planning your office/ working environment strategy. Embracing the progress and becoming a remote-friendly company that appeases both remote and in-house team members may just attract a new level of talent, locally and across the globe.

Now there’s a thought.