Going back to the office is more complex than it seems at first sight and is a polarizing topic for both employers and employees. There isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer either as not many companies have experienced it already to be able to share lessons learned. However, there are guidelines for when to go back to the office and guides on how to return to the workplace. Also, experts on employee experience, psychology, and human behavior have shared their opinions on what to consider. Find below some considerations and advantages of returning to the workplace.
Before considering (or not) the advantages of returning to the workplace think about these first
Humans are social animals and there are many habits that we do and are not aware of. Because of the pandemic circumstances, people have forgotten the power, joy, and happiness that comes from social habits and interactions such as a handshake or a pat on the back. Also, humans tend to be biassed towards preferring options that have the best short-term benefits.
Because of these facts, expert on human behavior and author of “Predictably Irrational”, Dan Ariely, mentions that people don’t fully understand how much they miss each other and thus proposes that employees should give a trial period of 1 to 2 months on working on the office before deciding on whether to work from home (WFH), office or on a hybrid model.
Performance and productivity can be both achieved either in WFH mode or at the office depending on the type of work, hence the commonly suggested hybrid mode approach. Still, experts alert for the problems hybrid work might cause if employers do not create some ground rules on WFH scheduling. More specifically, these problems range from the isolation of workers joining in remotely to a meeting where others are physically present, the risk to maintain diversity, and career advancement. There are other common workplace issues in going back to work that increase the concern that return to the office requires careful thinking and planning and that it has to be worth it. If these concerns are not addressed properly by the employer, it will encourage and subconsciously motivate employees to be in the office every day.
Having considered these, here are the advantages of returning to the workplace – FEEL (Function, Eudaimonia, Efficiency and effectiveness and Learning):
A challenging task is stressful and demanding but can also be unifying and motivating. Still, there’s nothing more unifying and motivating than having purpose and overcoming that challenge. That’s when people come together, share deepest thoughts, and celebrate those accomplishments. With working from home those feelings, openness, and small wins celebrations have been blurred and faded away behind virtual calls without the camera on or emojis.
Returning to the office and consequently, physical proximity will enable better social interactions, people will read more easily nonverbal cues and create stronger bonds with co-workers. This will in turn boost the purpose and sense of belonging to the company and reinforce the goal contagion phenomenon. In short, employees will re-discover and strengthen their function on the company’s values, mission, and vision.
Research has proven that being together releases oxytocin which helps us feel happier and decrease the release of hormones that are associated with stress levels, weight gain, and heart diseases. Being at the office not only increases face-to-face interactions which is beneficial for physical and emotional wellbeing but also reduces the extensive usage of technology and decreases tech fatigue.
In addition, since the lockdown started human options were reduced drastically. To name a few traveling; doing sports indoors and in some cases outdoors too; going out to restaurants, pubs, and other attractions; visiting relatives and friends. These have impacted everyone, but younger adults and single people have felt it the most. This group was the one deprived the most of human interactions and is the one advocating the most for working in the office again.
Going back to the office would support the improvement in wellbeing for all employees but would benefit the youngest and single.
Efficiency and effectiveness
Efficiency and effectiveness can be translated respectively to doing things right and doing “the right” things or, in other words, good use of resources and pursuing the appropriate goals. As mentioned above on considerations, performance can be both achieved on WFH mode and in the office, it all depends on the task. However, working at the office has tremendous benefits for collaboration, job satisfaction, and as a result output.
Research in different environments varying from businesses to universities and sports have proven that working together in close proximity improves drastically both the quality and quantity of work. Moreover, the good performance of one team player will lead to positive emotional contagion of the rest of the team members and subsequently improve overall team performance.
Additionally, the physical workplace will enable more cross-departmental interactions and moments of serendipity which might generate ingenious and out-of-the-box ideas. Or at minimum, it will be easier for your co-workers to notice when you’re struggling with a task and help you which might save you some headaches and time.
The last element of returning to the office FEEL benefits is learning with others. Continuing on the previous topic, a physical workplace enables better and easier onboarding for a new team member. The onboard itself is not the critical part as it is possible to do virtually too, but sharing tacit knowledge is, as it is for new team members and young adults to build their social capital.
Learning is also important for career growth. As social animals, we observe other people we look up to and try emulating them. This can be in soft skills such as communication, work ethic, empathy, or team working, and in hard skills such as software proficiency, language proficiency, certificates, or unique talents.
The benefits of learning go both ways. The person that is learning will improve and grow, and the person teaching will have a sense of fulfillment and remind themselves of their value and unique skillset. This learning-teaching relationship is independent of seniority or hierarchy position within the organization.
Return to office is not a simple decision and requires a transparent return to workplace plan and roadmap. This will help employees gain a small but significant sense of more control after a substantial decrease in the ability to plan their own lives.
Still, since we don’t fully understand how much we miss each other and have forgotten the joys we get from other people, now is the time to be altruistic and give a trial period to physical workplaces before making decisions.
Returning to the physical workplace has tremendous benefits and advantages for the employer, but also for you and other employees as presented under the FEEL acronym. We just need to experience them again to remind ourselves of their value to us and others.