Updated: Jul 30
I’m hearing a lot about people’s desperation to return to the office. After months of lockdown, isolation, and working from home, many are chomping at the bit to get back to some semblance of what constituted normality before the pandemic.
Everyone’s circumstances are different, but closer inspection tends to reveal a different general picture. In most cases, it isn’t the office per se that people are longing to return to.
They haven’t been experiencing a state of mourning by being separated from their 6x2 desk, or their pod. It isn’t a craving for the 2 square metres of workspace on a floor carved into 100 similar 2 square foot territories. It isn’t the cacophony of ringtones, or the tidy desk policy. For many, it isn’t the commute, although some see this a necessary bridge between work and home, allowing them to de-pressurize.
If it isn’t these things, what is it.
It’s the knowing look between colleagues across a desk or as they pass each other in a corridor.
It’s the gentle hum of industry
It’s the miniscule connections between people
It’s the laughter
It’s the exchange of ideas
It’s not feeling alone
It’s the ability to gauge the mood
It’s the sense of excitement when wrestling with a shared challenge
It’s the opportunity to break up the day with different interactions
It’s the ease with which you can share and resolve a problem
It’s the moments of celebration, congratulation, and appreciation
Its someone noticing when you’re having a bad day
Post-Covid, the challenge for employers everywhere is to find a way for their staff to experience these things even when they are not in a shared place of work. As hybrid or fully remote working patters gain traction, and colleagues spend less time together in a physical space, solutions are needed to ensure that those casual interactions, and a sense of belonging are not casualties.
The pandemic has in some way democratised employment. Certain barriers to entry have been removed. Geography and Disability have become less significant factors in the recruitment process: you can now work from almost anywhere; and physical disabilities that previously relied on often inaccessible transport systems, poor town planning, and expensive workplace reconfiguration do not need to keep people out of meaningful employment. That is the silver lining of the pandemic: even though it is one that shouldn’t have taken a pandemic to bring about.
But it doesn’t come cost-free. In this new world, people need the tools, mechanisms, and infrastructure to keep connected, committed, and communicating. They need access to different, more deliberate ways to replicate those casual but vital exchanges and to pick up on the nuanced dynamics of a shared experience. And we need leaders to take the issue seriously because simply forcing people back into the office is an old-world solution that might be missing the point. We need to be more creative, imaginative, and focused on creating healthy relationships between colleagues, healthy teams, and healthy organisations that can thrive in a world of hybrid working.
Technology, such as our Muster application, is one part of the solution, but let’s keep working at it to protect the welfare and performance of our people in all possible working environments.