Someone asked the other day, “what do you think about the numbers and percentages around bringing people back into the office?”
Organizations are trying to set a sense of normalcy for their employees. The problem is that when they talk about the future, most people say “recapture” and “new normal.” Those words imply we’re trying to gain back something we lost, and it puts the emphasis on things that we no longer have. It’s not a “new normal,” it’s just normal.
We’re moving forward, not going backwards to “recapture” something that isn’t there anymore. Our messaging needs to be around progress. We need to use words and phrases that remind us to go forward. To focus on what’s coming and what we can do, not what’s been and what we can’t do.
This pandemic took a lot of companies by surprise. The first few weeks were mainly damage control and scrambling to make sure that everyone had the basics to work from home: wifi, a laptop and some sense of staying connected. It was supposed to be temporary, and then it got extended and extended….and extended again.
Phasing people back into the office is a complicated and emotional process. It differs by state, city, industry, organization, and person. A lot of companies want to bring people back into the office because they think that’s what’s necessary to “go back to normal”: it’s what people are used to, it’s what builds culture, it’s what keeps people connected, it’s what they’ve always done.
It’s a backwards way of thinking.
Most of us have now been in some form of WFH/SIP for 4 months. Most companies will continue to have distributed/remote employees through the end of the year, maybe even through next year. And while reality has evolved, the conversation around WFH hasn’t. There are lots of scholarly articles on how to act in a zoom meeting (for god’s sake, mute yourself) and lots of hilarious memes on working from home (haha, I’m in my pajamas!) and several research studies on increased productivity (no commute = more time to work) and the accompanying burnout (so now I’m working all the time).
I don’t see a lot of real conversations on how to help people establish new patterns and routines beyond “make a space for yourself” and “set some boundaries.” There is no separation of work and home for many people now. It’s not about balance anymore, it’s truly about work-life integration. How are you onboarding new employees? What are you doing about equipment needs not that everyone has a home office? How are you setting people up for success now that they aren’t coming to an office? Are you making sure employees aren’t penalized for having to work around working at home? Is anyone talking about a shift in working times to accommodate responsibilities of new lifestyles? How about setting core hours? Will working hours become more dispersed to accommodate people working in shifts?
Today is better than yesterday and tomorrow will be better than today, it always is. So why are we talking about what we used to do rather than what we need to do?