Back to the Office

Back to the Office

Is the dark cloud of terror from COVID lifting? Corporate bosses think so. Hence, the clamor for workers to come back to the office post haste. 

“Location, Location, Location”

Before WWII, Harold Samuel, a British real estate tycoon, coined this familiar phrase. It basically means that a property’s value depends on its location. Right now executives are hoping to boost the company’s value by bringing employees back on site. Their rationale: interaction, collaboration, and innovation may be fostered in the office. Or they may be forfeited by remote work assignments. 

Connection, connection, connection

Let’s face it, we’re a social species. Shaping humanity is really a contact sport, that is to say, it determines the kind of humans we become and continual connection helps us grow. Even “challenging” relationships can be the fertilizer that makes us more mature, secure individuals.

Some experts think in-office team building helped many companies pivot more easily to remote assignments early on in the pandemic. They contend that those pre-COVID  in-house relationships facilitated agility and resilience during the lockdown. 

On-site benefits

And admittedly there a number of practical reasons for calling in the troops. For one thing, it’s a safe bet that no one will miss what’s now called “Zoom fatigue”. Many workers suffered eye strain and headaches from these virtual meeting marathons. 

And while their energy sagged, their shortened tempers flared. Additionally, retro-fitting home nooks into office space didn’t guarantee privacy from spouses and children, many of whom were on lockdown as well. 

Iron sharpens iron

Initially, some workers enjoyed the freedom from commuting and having more time to spend with family. Ironically, though, many of these same employees began to feel isolated and depressed.  

According to the Book of Proverbs, “iron sharpens iron,” which means that innovators inspire and challenge other innovators. And that’s proven true in the workplace—creative people get their juices flowing around like-minded game-changers. 

Lots of home-based workers have missed that spark ignited by collaborating with fellow workers.  Even in the “old” office, synergy still kindles innovation.  And there’s the added benefit of feeling comfortable in familiar surroundings. Veterans like knowing the lay of the land. And newbies get to learn the ropes, establish relationships,  and absorb the corporate culture more easily on-site. 

Old office, new norms

So the old office may indeed be the launching pad for a whole new era of business. But that can only happen if new norms are adopted, because “old norms” are in the rearview mirror of COVID-19.

Expectations about the big return are interlaced with both nervous excitement and absolute dread. According to Fortune.com, “The predictions are dizzying, conflicting—and confusing. Imagine the plight of workers trying to make decisions about homes, commutes, childcare and school districts right now…..”

These issues caused by COVID-19 created a perfect storm of mental health problems. And for the first time, the mental health crisis in America is so serious it supersedes worries about the traditional stigma of mental illness.

Forbes.com: Mental health matters, for today’s remote workforce: a vast majority of workers (80%) would consider quitting their current position for a job that focused more on employees’ mental health. That’s according to a recent survey of 1,000 Americans, published by TELUS International. Research indicates that 75% of U.S. workers have struggled at work due to anxiety caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and other recent world events.”

Self-care is not selfish

Granted “self” is a 4-letter, but it can no longer be treated as such in the workplace if employers want robust, healthy, productive employees. Workers need to be treated more like human assets than machine cogs.

So:

  • How about making mental health counselors available throughout the work day—virtually or on-site?
  • What about additional restrooms that are actually designed for rest breaks?
  • And how about more humane work hours, and flexible schedules?
  • What about publicly acknowledging each employee’s value and privately supporting workers who need to improve? You know, instead of the reverse—public humiliation and private commendations.
  • When is  your company going to care about child care?

 CEOs who want to call their troops back, should remember not to wage war against them—re hours, salaries, and the like. Instead, equip them to fight for the survival of the company during this surreal time— and win!!


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