I have been struggling these past few weeks. I’m back in the office part time and enjoying the workplace banter, having to get dressed a few times a week (more than just my top half 😉), and being able to personally interact with my colleagues. Don’t get me wrong, I love being at home with my boys but there is something so important about being able to connect with people in person, something Microsoft Teams / Zoom just can’t bring to the table - and yet, I hear grumbles across many organizations because companies are asking their employees to come into their place of work a few days a week. So why am I struggling?
I am struggling because I see our past and what the entire world went through (is going through). I see how so many people so badly want to go “back to normal”, but I realize that applies to everything but the workplace. We want mask mandates to be lifted and people to get their vaccines and restaurant capacity restrictions to be loosened and people to be able to gather (not in fear), and, and, and… But what we don’t want is for the people who are paying us to tell us that they want our undivided attention while we are doing our job. I get it, believe me, I get it. I can play both sides of this equation.
As I sit here and think about our employees and what it means for them to go back to work, three things come to mind:
1. Hybrid isn’t always better
I have a few friends whose companies allow employees to choose which days they come into the office, but they have to come in two days a week. This means each individual can choose whatever days suit them in any given week. Now, this might sound convenient (and it is at the individual level!); however, it leaves employees sitting at their desks on conference calls cursing the Executive Leadership Team. Why? They could be doing the same damn thing from the comfort of their home, without having to commute, pay for gas, or waste 45 minutes doing their hair. Ok, the hair thing might be an exaggeration.
My point here is: Are we going hybrid and allowing people to choose their office days to appear flexible? If it means we aren’t connecting in person and sitting at our desks for 8 hours on conference calls, I, too, ask you what the purpose is of going back to the office. For a hybrid model to be successful, we need to be intentional about why we are asking individuals to return to work. If the answer is camaraderie and collaboration, I ask how you expect that to happen if no one is booking conference rooms and everyone has to sit on Teams because half of the required people chose not to come in that day.
I do truly believe there can be some success to a hybrid model if done properly. If I was a manger in this type of environment, I might work with my team to set an expectation for which days to be in the office so that we can maximize our time together and grow as the entire world adjusts to the ever changing environment. We really are all in this together, so why not find a model that works for you and your team directly?
2. Vaccine and masks mandates - still a controversial topic
I have seen organizations part ways from employees who refused to get a vaccine. I have seen companies require all employees to wear masks regardless of vaccination status. I have seen some hybrid version - testing and mask requirements for non-vaxers, nothing for individuals who have been vaccinated. I have seen friends part ways. I have seen people bash others on social media. At the end of the day, I have to believe every company is trying to do what is best for them and their people, but can I just say that this whole thing sucks? Every version of this just leaves us judging our colleagues for whatever path they chose.
For those of you that weren’t vaccinated, do you feel like you are walking around with a giant sign on your face that says, “I probably have the plague, please stay away.”? I have to imagine that you think it is a little silly that you have to get tested and wear a mask even when you have proof you don’t have COVID. Are you looking at your vaccinated colleagues like, “ugh they probably have it, don’t know it, and are giving it to the world.”. Maybe you can take that plague sign off your face and tape it to their back. 😉
For those of you who were vaccinated, are you scared of your non-vaxed colleagues? Do you roll your eyes at their ignorance? Do you feel invincible? I’m pretty sure superhero status starts when you are both vaccinated and have been COVID positive. I think I’m going to start investing in some capes. 🦸♀️
My point here is: We are struggling to maneuver this back-to-work life, and now we are adding a whole new level of divide within our organizations because of an individual’s vaccination status. The election divided us, the pandemic divided us, and I can feel the topic of vaccines being wedged into the workplace. Where does it end? I don’t have an answer for this one, just hoping to provide some food for thought.
3. Not everyone was productive at home
These past two and a half years at home were priceless - I got to see my littles go through so many of their milestones. Sitting in my home office hearing my boys drive their little Jeep’s around the house and ram them into my office door as they giggle is something that I personally don’t want to trade for anything. I can also get things done (i.e. dishes, laundry) that would otherwise pile up if I had to go into the office everyday.
While I know that I can complete my work remotely, as a manager I know this does not hold true for everyone. I know many are asking themselves, “If we were able to be successful throughout the pandemic, why can’t we simply keep this model moving forward?”. The problem is: You don’t know that everyone has been successful. Some people have simply flown under the radar and done the bare minimum to stay employed. Some watch TV or run a daycare while they are “working” from home. I get why employers want us back in the office, but I also understand why it feels like an inconvenience for you. I just ask that you take a step back and look at this from an employer’s perspective as well.
As a manager I will tell you that everyone has to know their boundaries and find a way to communicate them. If your boundary happens to be that you cannot work onsite, I encourage you to see if your company is willing to make a case-by-case exception. If you are trying to find happiness, now may be the best time in the job market to find a place where you fit in and are the most valued. And, hey, if all else fails you can read about what being A Stay-at-Home Dad? is like. 😉