Predicting the Unpredictable: How to Prepare for the Return to the Office

There is no crystal ball to determine when it will be safe to go back. FCA’s John Campbell shares how we can prepare ourselves and our offices for the return to the workplace.

Employers need to embrace society’s growing desire to customize spaces by providing a wide variety of work settings within the office. This allows employees to choose what works best for their day or specific task at hand––ultimately leading to greater productivity and happiness. Photo Credit: Frank Oudeman

Over the last year and a half, we have witnessed a transformational change in how we conduct our work. For many, going to the office daily is no longer essential. The pandemic fully demonstrated that technology enables us to effectively work anywhere. That ‘choice’ in where to work is going to be a key factor for many in determining how and who employees work for. While the physical office will remain an essential part of a company culture, adapting to meet the new requirements for an employee’s freedom of choice will also be key.

The return-to-office date has changed many times throughout this pandemic and there is no crystal ball to determine when it will be safest for us to go back. However, there are ways we can prepare ourselves and our offices for the return to the workplace, regardless of when that will be.

Shifting Our View of Workplace Culture

The nature of how companies engage employees to determine the appropriate way of working is vital. There are some companies where all or some functions require physical presence, but for most this is not the case. In determining the path forward, the first step is really focused on human resources (HR), to develop the appropriate policies that align with the business drivers, processes, and culture.

Workplace culture is still a highly prioritized aspect to workplaces operating both remotely and in-person. It is undeniable that with the advent of hybrid and remote working, companies will need to work harder to build and retain a culture that will encourage employees to remain engaged. Whether that means re-thinking their core values, developing new messages to resonate with employees, or enacting policies to better demonstrate their company values, businesses need to authentically share how they are prioritizing culture.

In terms of design, workplaces will begin to provide amenity-rich environments to create opportunities for social engagement, health, and wellbeing, both in-person and virtually. By prioritizing culture in the workplace and offering amenities that employees look forward to using, employers can develop stronger relationships with employees.

Employees must accept the idea of having a shared workspace, and in turn, rely more on the flexibility found in modern technology and less on paper to complete their work. Photo Credit: Frank Oudeman

Managing New Work-Life Balance Expectations

Prior to 2020, many employers were hesitant to embrace remote work as they believed employees could only work efficiently if they were being supervised in the office. These past 18 months have proven that assumption to be wrong. We realized we did not need the office in the way we thought we did. Employers have learned to trust that their employees will do the jobs they need to do. Additionally, employees must trust their employers to embrace non-traditional concepts of a work-life balance and understand that what works for one employee does not work for all. Employees and employers must find balance between personal life and work life and make sure they have the choice to create their own balance.

With the workforce now dispersed between at-home, in-person, and hybrid routes, there is little need within most companies for everyone coming together in an office on a regular basis. In this new mode of working, it is incredibly important for companies to develop ways to maintain and build an active collegial work culture. New positions will likely be created to address this. For example, a “Community Manager” position would focus on human resources, facilities, cultural events, employee advocacy and outreach, and anything else necessary to maintain the company culture for all employees, whether working remote, in the office or with hybrid schedules.

Re-imagining the standard conference room and allowing virtual participants to be “brought in” will make the experience of virtual meetings more productive (and enjoyable) for all. Photo Credit: Frank Oudeman

The World of Shared Spaces

Another shift we’re seeing in the industry is a move away from permanently assigned workspaces for companies that have embraced a hybrid workweek. Employees must accept the idea of having a shared workspace, and in turn, rely more on the flexibility found within modern technology and less on paper to complete their work.

The new office landscape must embrace variety, choice, different work types and work styles. After working remotely for a long period of time, employees have grown accustomed to adjusting their workspace to their liking. Employers need to embrace this desire for customizable spaces by adding a wide variety of work settings within the office. Ultimately, this allows their employees to choose what works best for their day or specific task at hand.

Prior to the pandemic, dialing into a live meeting meant that you were barely at the meeting at all. Meaningful participation via webcam or Polycom was strained, and virtual participants were often left on the back-burner. Today, with significant advances in technology, meetings can be held with in-person and remote employees. Re-imagining the standard conference room and allowing virtual participants to be “brought in” will make the experience of virtual meetings more productive (and enjoyable) for all.

The new office landscape will embrace variety, choice, different work types and work styles including access to outdoor space. After working remotely for a long period of time, employees have grown accustomed to customizing their workspace to their liking. Photo Credit: Frank Oudeman

Staying Optimistic

It is undeniable that the pandemic forced us to learn to function differently and think about our participation in the act of “work” from a new perspective. While the pandemic has been a stressful experience, it gave us time to reevaluate our priorities. During this time, we were able to take a step back and understand more fully how we can participate and contribute more meaningfully to our work lives and our personal lives. As a society, we tend to be fearful of change, be it advances in technology or acceptance of climate change. There is no guarantee that change will always be good, but it is guaranteed that change will happen and is happening all the time.

Historically, periods of great innovation follow periods of great stress. Right now, we don’t know a lot about what the future of the office will look like. If history runs true, hopefully we accept the challenge of making this a period of great innovation and radically rethink the world of work. We may have finally reached a tipping point where the phrase “work-life balance” starts to have actual practical meaning. 

More from John Campbell

The Benefits of Unassigned Versus Assigned Seating in the Workplace

FCA's John Campbell explores how the unassigned workplace can provide a truly...
Read More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *