Someday soon, most of us will be returning to our workplaces, at least part of the time. We’ve been asking people what they look forward to the most when they get back in the office. The answers aren’t surprising. Most people look forward to being in-person with their colleagues, socializing, brainstorming, and getting out of their homes.
But there are other things we’re not looking forward to. Many of them involve the wearing of pants.
Just because many of us are happy to be returning to our desks, doesn’t mean it will be easy. While it may not be rocket science, there is one similarity between returning to the office and space travel—reentry can hold dangers.
What problems can people anticipate after so long?
We have all changed our routines.
Some of us have children at home. Others of us are in control of our schedules. Some of us have commutes that will change due to traffic patterns. When working from home, we established both a personal rhythm and an agreement with our teammates. Will we still be expected to answer emails at 6 AM when we’ll be in the office at 9:00? It will take time and conversation to create a new normal, and there will be frustration in between. Will everyone still be expected to go to, and leave, work at the same time?
Some of us have gotten comfortable with flexible working and might find it hard to switch.
Adjusting to the needs of the person at the next desk, or of our manager demanding more of our time because we’re in the same place is going to be harder for some of us than others. We were responsible for much of our own schedule and work processes for the last year. While many of us will be glad for the structure, we may have gotten a bit more feral than we think.
Relationships will have changed over time.
While it’s true that teams that were co-located report maintaining their relationships pretty well, distance has likely altered the way we work together. Some ties will be strong, others will have suffered from a lack of contact. Furthermore, you may have made peace with a coworker you disagree politically with, but after a year of being able to avoid conflict, or being in an echo chamber that hasn’t had to deal with dissenting voices, are you still going to be able to work together well?
New people will not know the way things were in the “before time.”
While for many people sliding into old patterns will be comfortable, we may have new team structures and even new teammates who don’t share that history. Don’t assume everyone knows “how you do things here.” Additionally, don’t assume everyone liked the old ways. This is a time to establish a new culture, and that will require time and patience.
There will be new, unexpected policies and changes. Flexibility won’t be optional.
During the shutdown, many companies will have downsized or changed their physical layout. You might be working more in shifts to limit the number of people in the same place. Someone might sit next to you one day and at home the next. And all of this is before we get to things like dress codes. Are we going back to shirts and ties? Is every day Casual Friday? Can you still wear your favorite t-shirt to a staff meeting? This will require more negotiating than you think and it’s likely you won’t like at least one of these changes.
None of this includes the basic fact that not everyone will be thrilled to go back to the office. Expect turmoil and turnover as people decide working from home suited them better, or that they enjoy the flexibility of choice.
Like any off-world journey, reentry can be tough. Be patient, be mindful, and don’t stop washing your hands.
Most of all, make being a great teammate your priority. Whether working remotely full-time or some of the time, learn how to navigate the unique challenges of being a great remote teammate.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. Wayne and Kevin’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammate, offers a roadmap for success not just for leaders, but for everyone making the transition to working remotely.