Should I Stay or Should I Go (To the Office)

When are we getting back to normal?

As the COVID vaccine continues to rollout here in the United States and the rest of the world, we hear this topic come up over and over again.

First, we heard it from people who needed to get back to earning a paycheck. Then, we heard it from people stuck at home with their kids and their spouses who needed a break from the home-schooling, the constant parenting, and the never-ending sight, sound, and smell of their “loved one.” And now we hear it from managers and executives who want to get their teams back in the office to re-establish full productivity.

“Getting back to normal” is a difficult situation with complex implications.

As employees, some of us have become verrrry accustomed to the comfort of our home offices. Sure, we work longer hours because we have to tend to the kids, the dog, the spouse. But we also get to tackle household chores like laundry and meal planning in an around our daily work schedules, freeing up the weekend for more relaxing activities. And we are saving a ton on fuel, auto maintenance, dining out, and all those outfits and accessories needed for proper workplace appearance.

As leaders, some of us have been in the office for months because of the comfort of silence and solitude, and the convenience of peripherals and printed documents. These comforts and conveniences make us much more productive and put a timeline on when we are “in the office”. Because our performance is high, we get to leave at a decent hour, not having to catch up on emails at 10pm to make up for lost time during the day.

So, given these two perspectives, you can see there might be a difference between what works best for employees versus leaders. And you can choose sides if you are so inclined.

But here’s the thing.

There are other workplace scenarios to be considered when deciding whether to embrace remote work or to get everyone back in the office.

As a leader, you would love to have your employees back in the office for all of the efficiencies gained by in-person activities: watercooler talk, comparing notes and calculations across cubicles, and occasional nudges among coworkers about how a project is coming along.

These synergies occur because people are free to interact spontaneously and bring up topics that aren’t discussed on any of those scheduled zoom calls that follow a strict agenda.

As an employee, you might secretly admit that you do miss seeing your coworkers and interacting with them in the moment and during breaks. And you probably even look forward to attending one of those corny, HR-sponsored office parties too. It’s ok. You can admit it. I like them too.

But now, let me tell you about an aspect of being in the office, you may not have considered.

It’s in regards to how your boss “sees” you.

People need to be seen to get promoted. It’s the rare case where a manager spots the potential in a team member. (He’s usually more concerned about keeping the wheels on the bus.) Usually, it’s their boss who inquires about you or Suzanne to see how you or she is doing and if you or she is ready for promotion.

So, if you’re not in the office and Suzanne is present most days, guess who gets seen. Yep, that’s right, not you, but Suzanne.

I’m not saying it’s fair. I’m just saying it happens.

Here’s another aspect you may not have considered. When people work remotely, they are likely to be considered more like a piece of software than a living, breathing human.

Why? Because when people are not seen, they are rather forgotten. It’s not that they don’t matter, it’s just that managers don’t think about their well-being quite as much as if they saw them in the office each day.

Again, I’m not saying it’s fair. I’m just saying it happens.

Which brings up the more personal point of remote work. When locality no longer matters, you put yourself more in the category of contractor or outsourced personnel.

When businesses have agreed to allow people to work from home, they open the talent pool from just local residents to the entire world, so instead of competing against ten to one hundred applicants, you could be jockeying for your position with over a thousand or more potential hires.

This can put your career in a whole new geography.

It could open a hundred new doors for you, or it could slowly close the one you’re currently employed at.

As an employee, consider all the aspects of working at home versus going to the office and decide how you want your boss to think about you and if you want to be seen more often so you are not overlooked for raises and promotions.

And if you’re not going into the office, find ways to collaborate. Maybe set up a “work date” with a coworker or two where you meet at a coffee shop or one of your homes to work together on your current project.

As a leader, get your entire team enrolled in the idea of balance between office time versus remote time based on the demands of the job, not the demands of home. Schedule meetings with plenty of buffer in between and encourage individuals to block out large chunks of time for focused, uninterrupted work.

And consider office weeks as well as office days. Bring the team in as a group at quarter start, quarter end, or when kicking off a new project, or for creative or brainstorming work. And finally, be flexible with individuals, but remember to set a baseline for minimum and maximum days in office or at home.

There’s a lot to consider as we begin the process of “getting back to normal”. So many variables, so many unknowns, so many demands.

So, how will you find ways to be more engaged with coworkers and with your boss. How will you develop schedules that allow for focus and flexibility? And how will you adjust your mindset toward spending more time in the office when the boss makes this request?

Getting back to normal will require creativity, flexibility, and relatability.

Together, we can make our new normal seem just as satisfying and sustainable as the old normal. With the right mindset, methodology, and motivation, we might make it even better!

Your Mindful Moment:

Want your staff to thrive in the workplace? Create a work environment that people want to call home.

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Jimmy Glenos is a Work/Life Performance Coach. He helps people achieve their biggest dreams, reach their highest energy, and attain total work/life fulfillment. With over 30 years of hospitality and health care experience, Jimmy brings deep knowledge and insight to help people lead at work and succeed in life.

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