Some people can’t wait to go back. Others are saying, “No! I love it at home, and I’m much more productive working remotely.” And then some are longing for a hybrid, flexible approach to work: “Sometimes I want to be with people and interact with my team, but I also want to be able to work remotely.”
People have strong opinions. As coaches, we’re supposed to step back, be neutral, listen, and look. It feels like ultimately what everyone is craving is flexibility – having options. Some people really do work better when they’re amongst other people, even if they’re just sitting beside someone in the next cubbyhole. And some people really do work better at home.
It’s about identifying and finding your own best work environment, and helping others do the same. For example, I love working from home and have for more than 21 years. But for most of that time, I’ve had coffee shops to visit during the workday, and I often did. Even though I like working remotely, I still need to get out.
Working in a bustling coffee shop wasn’t possible during much of the pandemic, but I was recently able to do it again for the first time. My own “return to work,” as it were.
As you’re facing your own decisions and concerns about changes to your work environment, ask yourself these three questions:
- Describe your ideal work setting.
- Where do you have the most creative energy?
- Where do you feel most productive and motivated?
- For which tasks do you need solitude and a distraction-free zone?
- When do you draw energy and insights from collaborating with others, both in-person and virtually?
- How do you know when do you need to shift your environment? What are the signs and signals that you need to be with people, or that you need to “hole up” and be distraction-free?
- What does your team need in order to get their best work done? What about each individual team member? How would they answer the questions above? How can you balance those different needs?
We have more options for work than we’ve ever had before: virtual meetings, hybrid combinations of working from home and working in the office, shared working spaces, “hot desking.” Why not take advantage of those options, whether you’re making the decision or advocating for yourself or your team?
A number of you reading this article will say, “I don’t have a choice.” So what can you do? You may have to grin and bear it, but while you do, keep the conversation going. Maybe changes can still happen over time.
One engineer (and engineers are all about the data!) tells me he has been gathering data about productivity levels pre-pandemic, during the pandemic, and as we are emerging from the pandemic. That will be extremely useful in making a case for whichever combination of work environments has been most effective for his team.
A lot of people have used this unprecedented time of stepping back to get to know themselves better and discovered things about how they best work. You can use those insights as you come back, or you might even realize it’s time to look for other work.
Being back in the office has highlighted just how many distractions there can be, and how much time can be wasted when people are all together. There is value in those casual interactions that people have missed, but it’s not always conducive to productivity.
One team tells me they discovered they can do in a 30-minute meeting what used to take 90 minutes, so they’re insisting on shorter meetings, with space in between.
Some leaders and workers are rewriting their “open door” policies. Instead of “popping in,” you can request or even require people to set up these conversations ahead of time. When you respect your own time, you can ask other people to do the same.
There may be a lot of emotion in these discussions. Try to push the pause button and not let the emotions run high. Remember, there are always more than two options. Instead of asking whether we should work remotely or in person, let’s ask when is it best for us to work in person? How can we work smarter and not harder, especially considering everything we’ve learned this past year? Let’s keep the conversation going.