Navigating Your Way Back to The Office

I recently heard a business leader referring to the need to “quickly get back to our new normal”. I’ll let you reflect on the incongruence of that statement!

What it highlights is that we are heading into another period of uncertainty at work. And as we do, now is the time for teams to come together, reflect, refocus and develop their own paths as we move out of lockdown and offices open up again.

 

The tension between working from home and the office

Technology allowed us to stay connected and remain productive in ways that far exceeded what we thought was achievable before January 2020. The Deloitte (2020) report on returning to work highlights that humanity and technology can co-exist, if not create even more human workplaces.

However, there still exists a tension, or polarity, between working from home & working from the office, a topic that I and a few HR leads explored recently. This is especially the case as our private and professional lives collided.

As you would expect, no easy answers emerged. Themes which dominated our exploration included:

  • The importance and power of individual and team purpose
  • Being clear around choice, freedom and flexibility and how being forced to work from home took that away for some people
  • The need to be creative and responsive to the emotional need and business value of adhoc connection, organisation identity and working across team boundaries
  • Unless managed well, we risk swinging the pendulum too far towards working from home which can pose physical and mental health risks
  • We need to empower teams to explore how to strike the balance and achieve the best of both. Teams need to pause, review and refocus the work they are accountable for and establish team norms or ways of working

 

There are Still Uncertain Times Ahead

We are now moving into a phase when new questions are emerging for people:

  • Given economic uncertainties, what will happen to my work? How will it change? Will I still have a job?
  • What is the role of the office in the short and long term? Will we have a period of ‘transition’? Who will be allowed back into the office? How will that work?
  • Will I have to continue working from home, even if I prefer not to or unable to continue to do so?
  • If I have to return to the office, even if only occasionally, is it safe to do so?
  • How will we work as a team over the next few months?

A recent study by Eagle Hill consulting found that the top causes of stress & burnout among employees polled are their workload (45%), trying to juggle their professional and personal life (35%), a lack of communication (32%) and time pressures (30%).

The Highs and Lows of Working from Home

Last week I ran a workshop with a team that came together for the first time since Covid-19 forced the closure of their office. As the team reflected on their experiences over the last few months, their responses varied from having enjoyed the opportunity to spend time at home, take calls whilst in the garden, focus on fitness, rediscover the kitchen, use what was commuting time for self-learning, or have more time with family.

But for others, it has been “awful”. Feelings of isolation, disconnection, the stress of working in an apartment not designed for home schooling, being a sole carer and work. There is a sense of dread at hearing statements from senior leaders that “we will continue to work from home and only come to the office if absolutely required”.

For many, the essence of their work is based on the connections and interactions that take place. Sophie, a team assistant, shared that the part of her job that gives her satisfaction and purpose had been wiped away by Covid-19. She has little connection with the business topics of the team, but thrives on ensuring that the team stays connected, engages with stakeholders and to relieve individuals of the office challenges they face. “I love working with the office facilities team, security and the other team assistants to ensure my teams can work at their best”.

 

Teams Need to Chart Their Own Roadmap

There is no single roadmap for returning to the office environment or the blend between home and the office. Whilst senior leaders might set corporate direction, it is at the team level that this needs to be made to work. Teams need to employ the lessons, practices, and goodwill they built during their accelerated crisis response (Deloitte, 2020). Teams can emerge from this stronger than ever before and with focus, do so faster than organisations at large.

So how can this be achieved?

  1. As a team, make sure that you pause before rushing ahead towards whatever your ‘new normal’ is.
  2. Allow people, at an individual level the opportunity to reflect and share what the last few months have been like, have felt like? Acknowledge that the experiences across the team have been very different?
  3. Review and refocus the priorities of the team. Are the priorities and work that you were focused on before Covid-19 still valid? What needs to change? What is your role as a team in supporting others across the organisation as they go through a similar journey?
  4. Refine your team norms and ways of working. What agreements do you need to put in place the reflect how you need to work together during this period of transition. How do you make sure that you address what did not work or had a negative impact on people over the last few months? How do you embed the positive aspects that have emerged?

The above might seem like quite a challenge. However, having a series of guided team conversations, or workshops, can strengthen your team cohesion and performance.

 

Call to Action

Working with other organisation practitioners and coaches, we have developed a framework of three 2-hour team-based sessions held over 10 – 15 days. In the end you will have a clearer approach for navigating the short-term challenges and agreements for how you will work and support each other.

To learn more, simply reach out and organise a quick call.

 

 

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Sources:

Deloitte (2020) Returning to work in the future of work: Embracing purpose, potential, perspective, and possibility during COVID-19. Available at: https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/be/Documents/human-capital/deloitte-insights_human-capital-trends-2020_returning-to-work.pdf

“Pandemic fuels burnout among nearly half of U.S. workers,” Orange County Register, April 16, 2020.

If you want to learn more about Polarities and using the polarity map, there are plenty of resources at: https://www.polaritypartnerships.com/