The Great Return to the Workplace: Navigating the New Normal of the Workplace Post-WFHMar 31, 2022 03:00PM ● By Susan Ahlstrom
What a relief to be finally coming out of the pandemic and moving on with life these days. Or is it? After two years (plus) of living with the threat of a virus that no one had even heard of before January 2020, constantly bobbing and weaving through changes in our day-to-day routines, and navigating social strife and upheaval like we haven’t seen since the 1960s, it’s safe to say, most of us are not the same people we were when COVID first reared its ugly head.
By now, most employees have successfully made the transition to working from home and the thought of going back to the office full of people, reintroducing commuting time and having to dress for success every day, feels like a real imposition.
The challenges that came out of the pandemic, like feelings of isolation, being disconnected from the workplace and broader community and managing life-work balance, were eventually met with the adoption of new ways to communicate and fill the need for human connection. Technology helped the world overcome the obstacles that quarantine and other restrictions presented. Zoom, Slack, Marco Polo and social media have all moved into the top spot on the list of priorities for individuals and families.
Although healthcare workers, teachers, frontline workers and retail associates have remained in-person in the workplace and we are profoundly grateful to them, many people have had the luxury of adapting to a life of WFH (working from home) over the past two years. The complications that working parents and school teachers initially had to navigate gave way to an acceptance (or even
enjoyment) of the benefits of not having to commute or get fully dressed to greet coworkers every morning.
We found ways to make the unpleasant feelings of disruption and isolation less intense by adapting to new work routines and new habits (maybe not all of them good for us). We’ve been lifting weights between phone calls, spending less money on lunch and conserving energy by avoiding the gas pump. We’ve become reacquainted with our neighborhoods during lunchtime walks around the block, rediscovered the joys of cooking (or discovered DoorDash and Uber Eats) and found new ways to use the existing spaces in our homes or apartments in an attempt to accommodate more than one person talking on the phone at a time or listening to the teacher or manager on Zoom. In short, we’ve been flexible, whether we’ve liked it or not.
Now that it’s time to take off our masks, return to the office and return to some sense of “normal”, one might think people would be excited. Not so.
A return to the workplace means, once again, turning life inside-out in order to organize the day to allow for a commute, making financial adjustments for gas, lunch and clothing expenses, and in many cases rethinking or rearranging childcare altogether. In addition, not only do we have to mentally and emotionally prepare for being back in group settings on a regular basis, but we have to fire up our social skills once again. The truth is, many of us will have to face the reality of all that we have discovered about ourselves over the past two years.
The political climate during the pandemic forced many people to really check in with their personal values and their sense of right and wrong. Whether it had to do with the definition of equality, individual rights or what defines “safe” when it comes to washing hands and what is the appropriate distance for social distancing, we’ve all spent a lot of time thinking about these things and learning.
Returning to the same old workplace with a brand new sense of the world and ourselves is not only going to be challenging for employees, but the transition presents a mountain of issues for employers.
One of the first things that comes to mind is the challenge of creating (or re-creating) a sense of community and consistency in the workplace. With employees returning to flexible calendars like “three days in, two days out” of the office, communications, scheduling, managing personnel and defining protocols for the workplace become much more complicated.
The work that lies ahead for employers as society moves back to the in-person environment cannot be underestimated. An employer’s greatest task will be to re-establish and communicate clear goals and objectives for this new way of operating (employees’ schedules flexing all over the place, for one thing), while also demonstrating compassion for the burden this return to the workplace will add to the lives of their employees who are already nearing the last few ounces of their resilience reserves after several years of adjustments.
While it’s exciting to think that life may once again be returning to “normal”, no one really knows what “normal” is anymore. There’s bound to be more challenges ahead as we uncover what our new normal is in the workplace.
Susan Ahlstrom is a Certified Accredited EFT Practitioner, Reiki Master and Wellness Coach. She is the owner of Lighter & Brighter Wellness. Connect at [email protected] and LighterAndBrighterWellness.com.