The topic of returning to the office has been a key subject on everyone’s minds, as working from home, or at the office can have a great effect on your social interactions and relationships with colleagues. A panel of speakers discussed this topic at The Great British Workplace Wellbeing series, giving expert advice and solutions.
Having those desk conversations, collaborating over a piece of work in person, or going for lunch with a colleague are all simple things that can make a huge difference. If you are not in the workplace then these aspects of interaction can often be overlooked, and organisations should consider looking into this. On the other hand, many may be apprehensive about returning to the office so employers should be prepared to deal with either situation.
Ben Towers, co-founder of Tahora, states that due to the proximity bias, the human need for connection has increased. “There is also the ultimate challenge as if you are not in the office then there is an unconscious bias as technology can help to age the conversations, but the physical interaction still needs to happen in the workplace.”
Ben goes on to explain what you can do to help tackle the bias, saying how not everybody wants to communicate everything they are doing with one another. “You need to make it your mission to tell everyone what you are up to, as those who work remotely lose the sense of connection that they need. There is an element that suggests that people who work remotely need more support and if you are working remotely, it is important to be on top of all communication within the workplace as this can help to alleviate concerns.”
Adding to the conversation Teresa Boughey, CEO of Jungle HR and Founder of Inclusion 247, highlights the importance of understanding who you are and how you like to work. She emphasises how critical it is to pause and reflect, to find out what is and isn’t working for you.
If you are going to have a staff meeting, it may be necessary to hold it on zoom as this will mean that everyone will have an equal share in the meeting and a chance to feel included. If someone still has feelings that they can’t have a conversation with their line manager then they may need to speak with their wellbeing team. Changing managers’ mindsets is a large task that will not happen quickly, but things can be done to start off this process.
On the future of the workplace, one question still stands, “Do you think there will be a gradual move back to the office?”. It is obvious that workplaces need to evolve, as currently there isn’t a lot of attraction around the thought of moving back into the office - especially full time. Those who have had children during time off, or adjusted to new childcare situations, may need to find new ways of providing childcare and face problems that may seem unnecessary to deal with. People have adapted their lives to working from home over the last two years, and have realised they can do so effectively, so creating a work schedule that suits their new lifestyle would be beneficial for all members of the workforce.
Teresa Boughey explains how in the past, organisations would attract people by providing an onsite gym, cafe or a creche for instance. However, working in a hybrid approach, these things cannot be possible but for many organisations, this model of working was the only way to ensure their company would survive. Now is the time to reflect and review, to think about how you can reward and engage your staff, in different ways. It is important to understand how to manage the people who do not want to return to the office as well as those who do.
The remote working model has however come with some intimate pros. There has been unexpected intimacy that has developed between a workforce through video calling in your own environment, as you may catch a glimpse of someone’s family, pets and homes. This helps to create more of a connection as you are essentially gaining an insight into somebody’s life. It has also allowed people to look at eachother with more understanding, as you are all in the same situation.
Understanding how to bridge the gap between diverse working hours and ensuring people remain connected is key. Ben Towers discusses how we can bridge this gap through interest-based connections, for example, creating smaller groups within the workplace, like a rock climbing group, dancing etc. This ensures that people will flock from various areas of the company and connect over their interests and hobbies. This will create a natural diversity when you look beyond the role.