The switch towards working from home in 2020 expanded beyond certain industries to almost every sector with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Employees who could perform their duties remotely were sent home with an unknown date of returning to the office.
Workers inevitably discovered the joys and the despairs of WFH arrangements. Eventually they realized that a better work-life balance was within easier reach. For the first time in history, they could have it all: a satisfying career in addition to a balanced personal life. Going to the office was put on hold until it wasn’t. If you are among those who have had to return to work in the office or switched to a new job requiring you to be on-site, keep reading.
A Short History of the Office Environment
Employers that adamantly reject alternative working options don’t realize that the concept of the office as a place of work has been changing over the years and that working from home is not really a modern invention. This way of working can be traced back to the time of the ancient Romans.
The Romans were the first to have people taking care of administrative tasks. They also could not return to their place of work after the fall of the Roman Empire. Some individuals began living above their shops and employed workers with whom they shared both work and housing arrangements.
It was in the 20th century when America created what we now consider office life as we know it. First there was the open-plan office which was inspired by the factory model. From the 1970s to the 1990s, it was the golden era of cubicles. Fast forward to the 2000s and we were then back to open offices in order to encourage collaboration in the workplace.
When the pandemic hit the United States in early 2020, we couldn’t work in person, so our employers required employees to stay home and use technology in order to interact. More recruiters and companies are now understanding employee preferences and betting on returning to the office with more flexible work arrangements.
What It’s Like Returning to the Office
Even if they are highly subjective and you don’t agree, it is undeniable that going back to the office has benefits and challenges. Here are some reasons why a physical return to work can be beneficial to both employees and companies:
Tip #1: Better Work-Life Balance
Office life with a set schedule might not work for everybody but for many it is necessary. Those who struggle with time management are easily distracted by the temptation of working with home or want to work within set boundaries. In addition, there are also people that are more productive in the office due to not having a dedicated workspace at home.
Without physical boundaries between home and work, many also end up working extra hours to finish projects or answering that last email. They start a vicious cycle that can cause them to feel overwhelmed and even burnt out. Showing up to the office, doing your thing and then leaving for the day allows you to put both a mental and physical distance between your responsibilities.
Tip #2: Feeling Isolated
Many employees report experiencing a huge relief from not having to socialize with colleagues, the truth is that there are just as many where working from home ends up feeling lonely. They feel isolated and they return to the office because they are looking for human connection. Connecting with people is especially important to senior employees.
Zoom and video calls cannot provide this and cannot make up for those exchanges that you might have over coffee or lunch. Interacting with one’s household is not enough. Employees report that having work friends is crucial to a happy working life. This is where the office environment is critical. Not going to the office also makes it difficult to network and meet new professionals which is essential for landing new opportunities.
Tip #3: A Sense of Belonging & Purpose
If you work from home, never return to the office and do not interact with coworkers or managers, it can be easy to be absorbed by your daily tasks. This is something that businesses fear as it brings a disconnection with company culture as well. When no one wants to go back to the office, many tech companies are now pushing for returning to the office for this reason. Without a shared company culture, businesses cannot thrive in the long term.
Some claim that if we never return to the office, we will lose not only friendships, collaborations and organizational culture but also our professionalism and ambitions. Without a boss to impress and learn from, who will we be better for?
The return to the office also brings along a few setbacks.
Tip #1: Commuting & Limited Flexibility
It’s no surprise that people do not want to return to the office full-time.
Commuting is not the only reason that we might assume that no one wants to go back to the office. We can’t forget the lack of flexibility. Job flexibility is the most important factor driving job seekers especially for young people.
Tip #2: Costs
Returning to the office means having to budget again for a range of expenditures. While working from home, people might have decided to ditch using their car or move. Going back would mean additional travel expenses. Parents spending their days in the office means that they have to deal with caregiver expenses that they otherwise would not need to. Let’s not forget that the convenience and affordability of eating at home goes out the window when you are back in the business district with its many alluring cafes and restaurants.
Tip #3: Illness
Since Covid-19, more people are concerned with their health. A return to the office can make it easier to catch a disease, but it also means being tied to a desk. Working from home allows you to be more active, such as taking calls while standing or walking around and exchanging your commute time for exercise. Those who are more attentive to their health might even have a treadmill available nearby.
Things That Can Ease Your Return to the Office
Considering the above pros and cons, many workers would quit their jobs if required to return to the office. The future work solutions seem to point to flexible and hybrid working. The office will adapt to employees rather than the other way around. Flexible working such as allowing people to run personal errands and establishing work-from-home days are a good compromise for both employees and companies. Even recruiters think that such a move can help retain talent and avoid turnover.
In order to encourage employees to return to the office, companies are also listening and trying to answer employee needs by providing a series of benefits including:
- Better-designed and highly functional spaces like co-working areas and making employees comfortable while working in the office.
- Offering a commuter stipend. Some companies cover costs for travel including the cost of parking or public transportation.
- To lure employees back to the office, offer free breakfasts or lunch. Companies have created market-style food halls and even food truck days.
- Whether it is helping with the costs of child or pet care, businesses are making an effort to support families.
- Unless you are required to attend specific engagements, employees can dress in less formal clothing even in more traditional industries.