Back to the office: Part II

Back to the office: Part II

In my previous post, I wrote about my own anxiety surrounding the idea of returning to the office. If you have not already read that, it's here:

Back to the office
Four words that fill me with dread. Just the thought of it makes me feel sick tomy stomach. As we pass the one year mark of the greatest shakeup to society, rumours havestarted circulating that “everything is going back to normal soon”, “we’ll beback in the office before long”, and I have to as…

I want to write about some of the thoughts and views I've had/heard since I published that post. You really don't have to read them, it's for me more than it is for you. (it probably wont be a trilogy)

There is no "one-size-fits-all" solution

A lot of people I spoke to agreed with what I was saying, but there were those that felt completely the opposite way. This could be for any number of reasons, including but not limited to:

  • Equipment needed for job is at the office/factory. Not exactly easy to bring a CNC machine home, for example.
  • Loneliness at home. Some people live alone and find the loss of interaction with others hard. (I do wonder if that would be different for them once we're allowed to socialise again)
  • Some people just like to be around other people to get their creative juices flowing, bounce ideas off others etc.

I think as long as companies take things into account at the individual level (at the very least, at a team level), and actually have the conversations with those that want them, then everyone can find a way to make their job "work" (sigh) for them. One thing is for certain, things probably won't - and probably shouldn't – go back to how they used to be before last March. Whatever happens, there are plenty of opportunities for both employees and employers to reap the benefits of being flexible with each other.

Location doesn't (always) matter

(This section ended up a lot longer than I had meant for it to be - TL;DR - employees and employers alike are realising "as long as the work gets done...")

A response to part 1

When this all started, and the announcement was made that "anyone that could work from home, should" - there was a tension you could almost cut with a knife about the office. Some were apprehensive - how were they going to be able to do their job from home? There was equipment they needed in the office, or as they ordinarily work in the office - they have workstations and not laptops. What about the phones? How would we make our (ancient) phone system work? Some people don't even have their own mobile phone, let alone a company one. Others, not helped by the stigma that "working from home" isn't really working at all, were just short of hostile towards those that were now working at home, whereas they genuinely had no choice but to come into work.

But, we worked things out. We worked out how to divert the phones, and get the helpdesks working from home. Some people took their workstations home with them. In some cases we were able to scrabble together old laptops and unused mobile phones, until we got to a point where there are only ever two or three people in the office at any one time. As mentioned above, some people just need to be in the office. Workshop staff, for example, can't very well take all of their repair work home with them (though I guess at a push you could probably work out the logistics). Some hardware just isn't appropriate, or even safe, to take home with you.

The thing is, everybody's role is different. I am very fortunate in that all I need to carry out my day to day job is a plug socket and good broadband. I could, if I wanted, take an extended stay at my parents house in the countryside without spending any annual leave. That's an incredible feeling, and one that I had never really entertained before this last year. I could, were there not a pandemic going on, spend a couple weeks in another country - working by day, and exploring by night - and still get my job done...

There are very few people that benefit from my presence in the office, and even then - they're fringe benefits, e.g the ability to pop ones head round the corner and "Aaaadaam, can you just...." (They can still do that - they just need to use chat instead).

They were wrong. I had broken it.

And that's a good thing that has come out of the last year. Employees have been able to show their employers that no matter their physical location - they can still get the job done. Obviously there are still some tasks that require a physical presence (until we invent a robot that can change the backup tapes), and from time to time that kind of thing might fall on me to do if someone else can't - but that's where two way flexibility comes in.

Communication is important

Once we'd gotten over the initial humps of getting people set up working in different places, one thing we realised quickly was that we needed to communicate with each other differently. No longer could one just tap someone else on the shoulder (thank fuck). Fortunately - not too long before the pandemic started - we have migrated to Google Workspace - and really that gave us all the tools we needed, even if we'd never used some of them before.

We were able to set up chat groups to vaguely mimic the office environment (except with typing). We could use Drive / File Stream to access files / collaborate on documents, and we could easily use Meet to have face to face conversations (although some people either have not got, or do not like to use, a webcam), and share our screens just as though they were sat next to us / looking over our shoulder. Without that, or something similar, I think we would have struggled a lot more.

We have a simple meeting every morning. "What did you do yesterday, what do you have planned today?" It's a good jumping-in point to talk with the whole team about how things are going

Mental health is more important

A fair few people I know (myself included) are being more open about their mental health than I've ever really noticed before. I mentioned in my motivation in my previous post that I am on an ongoing quest to be more mindful, and aware of how I feel.

Some people I have spoken to had a lot of time to reflect on what makes them happy over the past year. For example, they may have been furloughed - and therefore stepped back from a job that never gave them time to think about their mental health. People are generally getting a lot more exercise, mainly because it's been the only way we've been allowed to leave the house, but no matter the reason - it's good to go for a walk and take breaks from the computer screen.

I am fairly sure I come across as a cynical robot-man to most people I know - and for the most part, that is the part I play... but on the contrary - I actually enjoy being happy. I really fucking struggle to be happy sometimes, but I do like it. The past year has taught me a lot about myself - and I'm better off for it.

I've heard similar from others, although one comment was quite humbling:

Roughly a year before lockdown I came off the “tools” and began a mainly office based role for the first time in my life. I loved every minute of it. Lockdown hit i worked from home as lockdown lifted I was back in the office by September I was made redundant.... now I’m back on the tools my opportunities to find work at a desk let alone working from home are slim to none. My anxiety and the loss of having much more time with my little girl is a harsh reality.

Maybe I'm wrong, but that reads as someone who found peace and happiness with their work-life balance, but then it all got taken away again. That. That sucks. Hard.

PS

You didn't touch on the joy of not having to share bathroom facilities (wfh has been a God-send for the "poo shy")

Actually, yeah. That's a really good point. Shitting in one's own toilet, with access to decent toilet paper (and/or a bidet) is the best. I have always hated doing it at work, though it has not stopped me - when you gotta go...