None of us is sure when the COVID pandemic will draw to a close, but if the predictions in our newsfeeds are correct, the end might not be far off. With the possibility of COVID becoming less threatening and more endemic in societies, should we expect a wide-scale return to office with the same pre-covid regulations, procedures and patterns? The likelihood of returning to the pre-pandemic normal is slim. The office you left during the mass exodus of 2020 won't be the one you're returning to, and here are a few reasons why.

People And The Environment Aren't The Same

Despite the office looking the same, a lot has changed. Understandably, your colleagues have lived through a pandemic and aren't the same people you knew in the pre-pandemic days.
Once the mutual joy of being back at work and connecting with others face-to-face subside, people could feel differently about being back.

There will be people who aren't ready to give up the incredible work autonomy, convenience and comforts attached to remote working. While companies may employ greater freedoms to draw people back, it might not be enough for those who've created the ideal working life that fits around their other responsibilities.

Some may resist returning to office due to low-level anxiety and fears of the coronavirus. We might be entering a new stage of the pandemic. However, with health risks still around, the immunocompromised and senior workers will prioritise their wellbeing over the social benefits of being at the workplace.

Therefore, a complete return to office isn't realistic for two reasons. For starters, colleagues who don't want to be physically at work could negatively influence the work culture and create a hostile working environment for others. Moreover, with options to work remotely or follow hybrid work practices, colleagues are hardly ever in the same office at the same time.
This would make tasks like brainstorming, group thinking, and team meetings challenging to navigate, with not all workers physically present when they're needed.

Office Layouts Might Have Changed

The work hub you knew pre-pandemic might only be used for specific functions.

Companies may pivot their offices, using the workspace as social destinations for collaborative work and teamwork. This could be frustrating for working parents or employees looking for a quiet desk to get on with work. They might not find the respite they're looking for within the office.

On the other hand, communal spaces may be out-of-bounds or limited to a certain number of people only, making informal pow-wows and meetups tricky to arrange and serendipitous encounters rare.

Socialising In The Workplace Is Different

Certain vital elements that once triggered excitement at the office might be missing or not as accessible as before. Clear and consistent communication is key to a smooth return to office. 

Post-work drinks, social soirees, workshops, brainstorming sessions and general gatherings might include fewer people or not happen as frequently. Additionally, people might not be entirely comfortable attending work-related functions with COVID-19 still with us.

Post-work drinks, social soirees, workshops, brainstorming sessions and general gatherings might include fewer people or not happen as frequently

Integration Problems With New Starters

Connecting and communicating with most new employees has predominantly happened through video conferencing and online chats. As a result, it's probably more challenging to forge close bonds and rapport with these people than the work colleagues you've spent every day with before the pandemic.

Something else to consider is that although having new starters is rejuvenating, contributing to a company's growth with their fresh talents and unique perspectives, they'll undoubtedly change the workplace dynamics. The return to office provides an opportunity for team building and collaboration. Companies must take advantage of this and create opportunities for employees to connect and work together. 

As connections go from virtual to in-person, only time will tell how these latest team members influence other employees.

Young, Newly Graduated Or Latest Joiners Might Miss Out Anyway

One argument for employees to return to office is to give new graduates the chance to be mentored by older and experienced employees. Another is that the most sustainable work friendships blossom in the office and not over Zoom.

Mentees might not get the necessary learning experiences if older employees who teach them decide to remote work indefinitely. And as far as work relationships go, it might be harder for new joiners to cement professional bonds if their coworkers work predominantly from home or are only in the office some of the time.

... it might be harder for new joiners to cement professional bonds if their coworkers work predominately from home or are only in the office some of the time.

The Age-Old Problem Of Commuting

The one thing most of us haven't missed is the daily commute. Whether you drive or use public transport, we can agree that traveling to work can be an inconvenience that we'd rather not have to endure.

Commuting will become an inevitable part of our days if everyone returns to the same office as before.

Having to leave early to make it to work on time or arriving home late because of traffic or public transport delays cuts into time with our families.

This means a major adjustment for working parents and their offspring who might've been able to juggle their home and work lives by remote working.

A Changed Working Schedule

A return to office means giving up on some comforts, like a significantly reduced commute, having more rest before work, wearing casual clothing and having a versatile work schedule that allows you to fit in small chores, like picking up the kids and groceries.

The Pandemic Is Unpredictable

With companies having pushed their return to office multiple times because of new variants emerging, it's challenging to say with certainty whether our return to office will be permanent this time around.

We're on high alert as a result, knowing full well that the situation could change overnight.

We're on high alert as a result, knowing full well that the situation could change overnight.

Returning To The Office: A Work In Progress

Returning to the office isn't a one-size-fits-all for all businesses and workers. The process will take time as people get better acquainted with the new "new normal" and what that means for different people.

One thing's for sure, though, whenever the office reentry happens for you and your employees, don't expect a complete reversion to how things were.
The only thing we can really do when you return to office is adjust our expectations.

Times and people have changed - people don't fill the office hallways, and the social events hosted are less frequent or smaller. The nature of friendships and work relationships might have changed due to evolving working styles with people working from home or switching between the workplace and the office.

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