Returning to the office
Countless organizations are emerging from the pandemic and looking to resume something close to a normal, in-person office environment as possible. The reality of course is that almost everything has changed these since early 2020 and the new normal is still being defined.
One of the biggest casualties I've seen in the past year-plus is the hit to corporate culture. Some organizations were already largely virtual so they didn't pay a price but the rest of the world operated face-to-face and limped along with endless Zoom meetings. If we've learned anything in the past year it's that technology simply cannot solve every problem. Serendipity is a terrific example; there's something special about that unexpected hallway conversation which sometimes leads to a new idea or solution. If anyone has found an amazing virtual serendipity platform please let me know.
As the great office return continues it's tempting to think that old floor plans should be completely discarded and layouts should be reimagined with the pandemic in mind. I'm very supportive of creating hotel space for hybrid employees but I'm not convinced anyone can accurately predict the percentage of onsite employees we'll see 12 or 24 months from now. Every month is an opportunity to learn something new so it's wise to avoid prematurely declaring a long-term solution.
Another part of this that bothers me has to do with how employees are encouraged to return. I'll admit I don't have a solution for this but it's something we all need to think about. I'm referring specifically to the fact that employers need to create an environment employees crave and are looking forward to re-entering. (Yes, I said an environment employees actually crave.) This isn't about free food or ping-pong tables; it's about the broader organizational culture and how employees feel when they walk in the door. I have no doubt some organizations figured this out long ago but I'm also certain they're in the minority.
This isn't the solution to the problem I just mentioned but I do think FOMO will eventually create a gravitational pull for the return of some fence-sitting employees. Again, that's not the solution but it will be a factor in the return process. I say this because it's one thing when everyone is out of the office and nobody's missing out but it's a totally different situation when some are in while others choose to remain remote. There will definitely be more times where remote employees aren't fully in the loop or simply miss out on too many of those in-person serendipity moments. I believe this will require many months though, or possibly more than a year, to surface.
Lastly, flexibility is key for both employers and employees. As I mentioned earlier, there's still way too much we need to learn about the new normal and it's critical for everyone to remain open-minded and make all the required course corrections along the way.