Bringing People Back To The Office: Here’s What It Will Take

As we look toward a post-pandemic future, many of us are craving a return to life as we knew it (or closer to what we knew). We’ll be glad to go back to the gym, eat out again and yes, even #getbacktothe office. But while we’re craving to get back to the way things were, there will be challenges as well—because just as there are elements that exhaust us about working from home, there’s also a lot to love.

They say a new habit is built in 21 days and since March 2020, we’ve had about 14, 21-day cycles. This means we’ve solidified new approaches to working in our homes—and it’s possible they’ve become entrenched. So how will we change our current ways of working? What’s effective about #workingfromhome? And what’s not? What can we learn from the last year—and how can leaders create the conditions to motivate, engage and bring people back?

Through our experience of working from home during the pandemic, we’ve learned a significant amount, which we can apply to our future ways of working. Global studies by office manufacturer Steelcase (including—full disclosure—my own contribution to the research effort) are telling. Based on eight separate studies engaging 32,000 participants across 10 countries*, there’s a lot to know about working from home and how we’ll work in the months and years ahead.

What People Love—And Don’t Love—About Working From Home

For many, working from home has offered a lot of benefits. In fact, globally, eight out of ten countries rank not having to commute first on their list of benefits. In the US, people also value the ability to focus and be productive with less distractions of the office. They also like the range of settings where they can get their work done at home. Apparently, the opportunity to work from the kitchen, the living room or the home office offers a (surprising) amount of fulfillment. Globally, across all 10 countries, people also value greater #worklifebalance, more time for family, increased flexibility and greater autonomy.

But there are also things people miss about the office. In 10 out of 10 countries surveyed, isolation was the greatest concern from people working at home. We need our people, we miss our colleagues and work is a fundamental way this desire for belonging and community is fulfilled. Sure, we can connect virtually, but it’s just not the same. If the social isolation weren’t problematic enough, in the US, people also felt they were becoming gradually less productive, and they were experiencing reduced engagement and slower decision making.

January 17, 2021Tracy Brower – Contributor

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