I am hearing from organizations who are making plans for at least a limited return to the office this summer or fall. There are a lot of considerations to tackle in this endeavor.
- Procedures for screening returning employees for a fever or other signs of COVID-19.
- Setting or adjusting policies for a hybrid work environment.
- Finding a balance between working from home and working as a team.
I recently returned to the office after more than a year of being away. I thought I would share my experience with you. Perhaps you will find something to use with your own plans for a return to the office.
My Return to the Office
I waited until I had been fully vaccinated and completed the two-week quarantine period before I considered returning to the office. We do not have a formal back-to-work-in-the-office policy. We are feeling our way through it. Our office is small, making social distancing difficult. We originally set a rule that only one person could be in the office at a time. Later, we relaxed that to allow two people in the office at a time.
I decided to return to the office two days a week and work from home the remainder of the week. This seemed like a good balance. I could get some face-to-face time with my colleagues. But I could also avoid the long and crushing commute into the office every day.
I first had to take stock of what materials I had taken from the office to work from home. For instance, I had to remember if I had an extra headset to use for video meetings. In the past year I also started wearing glasses specially made for working in front of the computer all day. So, I had to remember to bring those with me when I returned to the office.
I wanted to set away plenty of time for updating my office computer when I returned. I was not sure if it was being updated regularly. And thought that I might have a long period of updating and rebooting ahead of me. It turns out that my computer was being updated on a regular basis (yay!) so updating and restarting did not take as long as I had planned.
Be Prepared to Update or Reinstall Some of Your Apps
My computer Operating System was OK. However, my Teams client app was so old that updating it required me to reinstall a new version of Teams. During the reinstall I lost access to the background images I had uploaded to the Teams client app. Sigh. So, I had to fish around for new ones. My social media accounts had logged me out after not seeing me on my office computer for so long. Fortunately, I use a password manager, so I did not have any difficulty logging back into those sites.
Probably the strangest experience returning to work was seeing my desk calendar still set at March of 2020. That was a little jarring. I told someone I felt like I had returned to Pompeii after the volcanic eruption. I was able to throw away the notes scattered on my desk. Likewise, I erased all the items on my whiteboard. Anything I had not addressed already in the past year would not need to be addressed anymore.
There were other oddities as well. For instance, we have been holding our weekly management meeting via video since the beginning of the pandemic. On Monday we found ourselves all in the office but still decided to hold our management meeting via video. Maybe this was because we take notes in Teams, so it made sense to continue meeting using Teams.
What is This Return to the Office Telling Us?
It is a little early to start making judgments about how the pandemic has changed the nature of work. I can see, however, that working from home in a dedicated sense is different than working from home on a casual basis. I might have been OK flipping open my laptop to get some work done at home in the past. But there came a point during this pandemic where I realized that I needed a proper computer setup. If nothing else, I wanted to avoid neck strain from looking too high or low at a monitor. Now I have two more or less equal workstation setups.
Working with documents in the cloud has certainly made it easier to work from home and return to the office. I still need to remember to bring my “analog” Moleskine notebook with me wherever I am working that day.
I have also learned about how to use the camera and lighting to provide the best image during video meetings. We have all now learned how to start and join a video meeting. When people return to the office again I will be interested to see how their new video meeting skills affect their behavior.
I have learned the importance of setting aside time to focus on key activities, ignoring interruptions during that time. I have also learned about the importance of getting up and stretching. Finally, I have learned that it is important to take a mental health break now and then.
We are all learning as we navigate this return to the office together. The change can be unsettling. But I am excited about the work environment that we will create. After all, we have learned a lot about work and connection in the past year.