In the last year and a half, we’ve been pulled from pillar to post – well, office to home, to office, to home, and back in the office again, and for some of us, it hasn’t been easy to adapt.
There are Mums and Dads, carers, pet owners, and people who are vulnerable, all fighting the same battle. But there’s also mental health to think about too.
We can all go through rough patches, an imbalance of our status quo, or simply feel uncomfortable about going back into an office environment. Whatever it is, this one’s for the skeptics out there in hope that you realize you’re not on your own, and for employers and leaders to be aware that it isn’t a one-fits-all.
So, what’s the big issue?
Unless you live on the doorstep of your office, office goers spend an average of 30-45 minutes commuting to get to work before they have had any chance of working. Changes in routine mean your mornings and evenings have been completely different since national lockdowns. For one, it means you’ve been avoiding traffic, train-hopping and simply rushing to get to and from work, which many would not be in a rush to return to.
Have you considered though that having somewhere to dress up for, somewhere to go, and people to meet, are all very positive for our wellbeing. Even if you’re an introvert, you may find team performance and individual results improve because you feel more supported when you’re physically around like-minded people.
This one is a little trickier for some to get their head around. Office returns need us to plan our journey, our outfit, our lunch, and how (if at all) we can fit in other things like going to the bank, the shops, or for a meal. Not forgetting, the spare change for car parks or public transport passes we have to reinvest into.
Lifestyle changes and commitments will all need to re-adapt, and for some of us, we quite like how it has been recently. However, we’re better at adapting than we think, and adapting is what makes us stronger and more resilient. As more people go back into the office, other things will also fall back into place. There might not be so much of a rush of traffic, and you might be able to book a restaurant without having to give one month’s notice.
Nervousness and anxieties
Covid-19 has been a bag full of uncertainty, warnings, and restrictions, so it makes sense that people are not yet accustomed to being around others. We’re not 100% sure if we’re comfortable lending someone our pen, touching door handles, or even sitting in the same space.
Not only that, we’ve adjusted our home environment to suit us and the way we work. Offices are not as fluid. The noise of other people working, distractions outside the window, and even generally wanting to catch up with everyone, all amount up to interruptions that have been absent for a while. If we’re not comfortable in our surroundings, that doesn’t pair well with focusing on the task at hand.
But there are ways around this. After working remotely for some months, by Summer 2020 if not earlier, businesses of all shapes and sizes made big decisions about office space. Some got rid altogether, others moved furniture or to different buildings to agree with guidelines, and so on. Just as open plan, communal areas, and snooker tables became a thing, office designs can also adapt to work with employees. We just have to give everything the chance to work.
The advice for employers is to be honest and fair. Not to mention, to become good listeners.
Once we appreciate that not everyone can adjust at the same time, while not forgetting that there are benefits in being in a social, office environment, we can start to ease feelings of anxiety. To make that work, employers ought to be just as understanding as they expect of their employees.
Together you can have an open forum or anonymous feedback around how people are feeling and whether there are ways to lessen the burden. Business leaders can suggest a gradual return to the office, splitting time in the office and at home, and ensuring they check in on how it is going.
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