I thought I’d be desperate to get back to the office after lockdown, but when the day came, I felt really nervous.  In the same way that I felt really panicked when we were forced to move the office home, now I didn’t want to go back in!  There are very strange times, and it’s the emotions as much as the logistics that affect us and our teams.

 

Are you and your team starting to come back into the office?  Whether you plan to split your time between between working from home and the office, or plan to come back full time, coming back into the office requires a careful transition. 

This is once in a lifetime chance to improve how we work before we go back to all our old habits, so here are 7 things ways to create a “better normal” back at work:

1. Encourage people to talk about their worries.  It’s a strange time – and going back to the office will cause concern.  Some will be nervous about re-entering public spaces, others will miss working from home.  Make sure to check in with your team on how they’re feeling about going back into work – even if people have irrational fears, discuss them together to make the transition as gentle as possible.

2.  Bring only the good things back.  Many people have have found some aspects of working from home positive and productive – consider what worked well and what your team would like to keep from the enforced home time as they come back to the office.  Some teams have been checking in more regularly with each other, others have been taking the chance to do fitness at lunchtimes –  there are some news ways of working that could be kept from the crisis. 

3. Leave the unproductive in the past.  Just because people are returning to work onsite, it doesn’t mean everything has to return to how it was before. Use the perspective of the last few months to cut out anything your team used to do that wasn’t productive.   Whether fighting through rush hour to do fixed office hours, or travelling long distances for short meetings that could be done via Zoom, think about what doesn’t need to return to the “better normal” office, and leave it behind. 

4. Experiment during the transition.  Don’t think of returning to work as an immediate step where one week you’re at home, and the next week full time at work as you were before.  This is an ideal opportunity to try out different ways of working, and the time you take to get it right will be valuable in the long term.  Resist creating a new set of rigid rules before you’ve had time to try new approaches.   There’s no rush – try coming in for just one or two days a week, or on reduced hours to avoid rush hour traffic.  Try out different working patterns and see what works.  Giving people time to figure out what works for them will cut down on unnecessary pressure and anxiety.

5. Have the right technology at home and work.  If people are planning on working from home and work, having an ergonomic desk and the right equipment at home is just as important as having them at the office. Consider two separate computers that sync on a cloud, rather than carrying a laptop between home and work to save on back pain and for security.

6.  Maximize ‘live time’.  If your team agrees to meet less in person than they used to, save the face-to-face time for really important meetings or discussions. For everything else – debriefs, updates, presentations, and anything where people just listen – those can be done remotely, or even pre-recorded and sent so people can digest them in their own time.  Keep live time for discussion, debate and decision-making, not just sitting and listening.  

7.  Keep communication equal.  As we mix how we work from home and work, avoid situations where some people are on video, and others are together in person in a meeting room.  Even if some people are at the office together, if people are joining remotely, it is fairer and clearer for everyone to be equally present each on their own video call screen, rather than a mix of meeting room and video call.

This is a rare chance to re-evaluate how we work and create a “better normal”, let’s not waste it.