Why should I go back to the office?
Back in 2019, none of us could have predicted that working from home would become so widely accepted. Pre-Covid, flexible working was seen as a privilege; something to be earned, a reward for loyalty and commitment, and ertainly not available to everyone. Returning mothers, those with caring responsibilities and people who lived a long way from the office needed to make a convincing case and even then, employers would often decline on the basis that the job role could not adequately be fulfilled through remote working. The balance was very much on the side of the employer who could pretty much call the shots about where and when their staff worked.
Fast forward to 2023, and the workplace has very different landscape for employers and their staff alike with employees now having much more control over their work schedule. Many people have demonstrated that they can work effectively at home, and can juggle their extra-curricular responsibilities without a drop in productivity. They have crafted their lives around this new way of working, getting used to a de facto payrise through reduced commuting, and enjoying the hours in the week that they have regained. By contrast, others have found that the lines between their work and home lives have become problematically blurred. They are working longer hours than ever, finding it difficult to switch off and relax, which can impact their mental health as well as their relationships. And, realistically, there are those for whom working from home can result in a significant drop in productivity, whether through distraction, procrastination or outright work avoidance!
From an employer perspective,this new way of working presents them with several challenges. They may have expensive offices, facilities and equipment lying unused, and they might have noticed that output has declined, without being able to attribute that directly to employees working from home. Communication between team members might suffer, project milestones and deadlines missed and the degree to which this is due to remote working can be difficult to establish. The effect on teamdynamics can be significant – some members of staff may very much want to spend more time in the office but find it half empty when they get there, leading to demotivation and lost learning opportunities.
There is no doubt that the debate will continue for some time, and the optimum solution will vary from person toperson depending on their individual circumstances. What is clear, however, is that employers are now keen to see people returning to a regular office routine, so it’s well worth considering why it’s actually a very good idea to spend the greater part of your working week in a permanent workplace. We’ve put together a few thoughts – by no means an exhaustive list, but here are some to get you thinking.
Communication. Texts and emails can be misconstrued, lacking the nuance and subtlety of in-person conversations. Video conferencing is a great innovation, but still can’t replicate the transparency of face-to-face interaction where body language, eye contact and gestures are so much clearer. With face-to-face meeting and discussion, there is less opportunity to over-thin ksituations, get the wrong end of the stick, or ruminate on what someone‘really’ meant.
Team dynamics. Teams are living things; sensitive to change,affected by interactions and motivations, and even small imbalances can have a marked impact. When teams work closely together, bonds are formed and there’s a common sense of purpose; a commitment to each other to get the job done through cooperation, collaboration, learning and mentoring. Less experienced members learn through observing others as well as through formal training, specific tasks and feedback process. Relationship building is a subtle process andwithout question, is easier in person. Working remotely can hinder the development of team bonds, leading to misunderstandings, lack of accountability and a heap of other problems that ultimately impact on team morale (and thebottom line).
Learning and coaching. Whether you’re at the start of your career, or managing a team as well as driving day to day business, there are massive benefits to the pace and scale of your development from prioritising face-to-face time. Systems and processes can be assimilated more quickly, clear objectives can be set and monitored, problems can be tackled as they arise, everyone learns through observation, listening to conversations and interactions between others; through noticing what works andbuilding an understanding of individuals and their motivations, things get done.
Identity and belonging. Similar to team dynamics, but focusing more on you as a person, your sense of identity and where you fit within the work ecosystem are key reasons for spending time with your colleagues. Being in the office, building relationships, developing a sense of camaraderie and affinity with others all help to shape your work identity and contribute to your all-round performance.
Challenge and self-confidence. Working from home for the best part of two years has had an impact on even the most robust of people. Lack of interaction with colleagues and feedback from line managers, lack of structure, unclear objectives,difficult market conditions, unachievable targets and reduced opportunity for rogression can all play havoc with your confidence. You may have foundy ourself thinking ‘What’s the point?’ or ‘I really don’t think I can do this.’Getting back into the office is the perfect opportunity to face those demons! Challenge yourself to be there, be visible, ask questions, be curious, get involved, ask for responsibility and make it very clear that you’re hungry for progression. The person sitting at home on their laptop is not the person whowill be top of mind when it comes to restructuring the team! If you’re leading a team, you set the standard with your own actions – if you’re in the office, there’s an expectation that your team will be, too, and it demonstrates to your line manager that your are serious about your responsibilities as a leader.
Motivation and focus. We’ve all been there, trying to find yourmojo when the sun is shining, the dog wants your attention and there’s a boxset you can’t tear yourself away from. The office is the answer! It’s much easier to get yourself into the right mindset when you’re at your desk with your to-do list in front of you and the kettle is on the next floor. With colleagues around you, your day has greater shape and a faster pace and you leave with a sense of having achieved much more.
Work/life balance. There is most definitely a psychological element to having clear demarcation lines between your work and home life.There can be few more satisfying feelings than leaving work after a challenging but productive day, looking forward to a relaxing evening, time with friends and family or maybe some exercise. Although technology enables us to be ‘always on’ it’s much easier to shut the laptop in the office and leave for the day,than it is to shut it down at home. Allowing yourself to go back to your deskafter dinner, or the kids have gone to bed, may feel like you’re demonstratingyour commitment, but can erode your energy, affect your relationships and ultimately your output can decline. Put some boundaries in place, even if it’s just for a few days a week, and stick to them.
Mental health. Closely tied to the previous point, keeping control over the structure and schedule of your work day helps to maintain a positive mental outlook. Having a regular routine, dressing for work, personal grooming, a commute which involves some walking towake up your brain, or some time to think about the day ahead – all contributeto a healthy approach to work and to keep things in perspective. Having the opportunity to share your thoughts with colleagues in the office, and empathise where you have common challenges can reassure you that you’re not alone and help you to navigate difficult times. However, if you do find yourself in a dark place and are struggling to cope, do seek appropriate support from your GPor a mental health professional.
The fun stuff! Work isn’t just for work. It’s for socialising - lunches, drinks, team days out,exercise, cinema trips, gossip – the scope is endless. AND you get to use whatever facilities are on offer - heating, lighting, catering, gym, parks, galleries and whatever else the local area has available. Make the most of it!