How to Transition Back to the Office
‘We look forward to welcoming you back to the office as soon as possible.’ Sound familiar?
For many business support professionals, and indeed all those who, pre-March 2020, were used to working in an office, what was initially a unique and unusual set up became the norm: working from home. The Office for National Statistics reported that 46.4% of London workers experienced remote working during 2020, an unsurprisingly sharp increase on the previous year. Among the SecsintheCity audience, the number was even higher at 93%.
Although some may feel ready to head back to the office, throughout the past year, many people have become comfortable with working from home, and may be feeling apprehensive about a return to office life. Here, we will discuss what a return to the office may mean for business support professionals, and how to overcome any internal hurdles you may be facing about the future of office work.
What is ‘Hybrid Working’?
Although some may return to the office full time, 5 days per week, many employers have realized throughout the last year that this previous rigidity is not necessary. Office workers throughout the country have proved that they can work just as efficiently from their own homes as they were previously able to in an office, with 79% of the SecsintheCity community reporting an increase in productivity. That being said, there are aspects of office life that can’t be replicated with a fully remote team – face-to-face meetings, a quick question answered easily, grabbing a chat with a colleague by the coffee machine. What’s more, a change of scenery will be welcomed by most.
Employers have recognised this. ‘Hybrid working’ aims to incorporate all the best parts of both home and office work, offering employees the opportunity to work part of the week from the office, and part of the week from home.
How to get used to being around people
Needless to say, going from a solo office to a populated one will be a huge change for many people. That, coupled with the idea of a busy commute, may be a cause for anxiety for a number of business support professionals.
Whilst there is no quick fix for the re-socialisation many of us will be going through in the next few months, comforting to note is that you are not alone in these feelings of unease. Even for those who are desperate for a return to ‘normal life’, the transition will be a difficult one. With that in mind, be open about your boundaries. If you are not comfortable with hugging yet, let people know. If you would rather keep your mask on in the office environment, do so. The strong likelihood is that your colleagues will be sympathetic to this, and perhaps even feel the same themselves.
However, also important to bear in mind – which may help ease anxieties – is that you would not be able to return to your office unless it was safe to do so. Your employer will be required to put in place precautions to keep the office environment safe – be those distancing markers, screens or an enhanced cleaning regime.
How to concentrate
If you have become used to working alone in your home, you may find the hustle and bustle of the office more distracting than you once did. Whilst for the first few days in the office it is to be expected that everyone will want to catch up, and the novelty of being around other people will be yet to wear off, after a while you will want time to concentrate on the tasks in hand.
An effective way to do this is to set a ‘power hour’. This is a certain time of the day, say 11:00-12:00, where you allot time in your diary to fully focus, not allowing for distractions. Having an end time in mind will allow you to commit wholeheartedly to this hour, as you know that you will be able to tackle anything external once the clock’s up. You could also alert your close team members to this, to minimise distractions further.
Another option could be to listen to music through headphones, if your company allows. Listening to something that helps you to concentrate can be invaluable, blocking out the white noise around you. Furthermore, having earphones in is a subtle signal that you are focused on your work, thus deterring others from distracting you needlessly.
Alternatively, if your office has areas for quiet work, for example an empty meeting room or a less populated area of the office floor, you could use those for periods of concentration. What’s more, with social distancing and the introduction of hybrid working schemes, this may mean that your office is a bit quieter than usual.
Remember why you used to enjoy the office
Absolutely paramount to your return to the office is remembering exactly why you used to enjoy working there. First and foremost: you can actually see your colleagues! No more 2D video calls, buffering screens or exclamations of ‘You’re on mute!’ You may have had new starters in the past year whom you’ve yet to meet, or old friends whose distance has been too great to cover during a period of restricted travel.
Not only will seeing your colleagues on a daily basis heighten your mood, but it can work to enhance your work. Now, when you have a question, you can easily pop over to someone’s desk to get the answer. If you’re struggling with a task, you now have people on hand to show you how to do things, rather than spending excess time figuring it out for fear of bothering people at home, or waiting on an email response. Small suggestions or finessing of points can be done in one conversation, as opposed to a chain of emails. This replacement of computerised communication with real life interactions will also reduce the amount of time you spend looking at a screen, which can only be a good thing!
What we have learned from the past year and a half is that nothing is certain when it comes to the future of work, and in particular the future of the office. What is certain is that people’s opinions and attitudes have changed on the matter; enough to make hybrid and remote working as common as the office. As the world begins the slow transition into post-pandemic life, business support professionals must feel proud of what they have overcome and achieved in such an unprecedented time. Your return to the office, be that part-time, full-time or remaining remote, will be a success.
If you would like to read more about the effects of 2020 on the business support profession, download our 2021 Audience Insight Report.
If you know a business support professional who has been outstanding over the past year, you can nominate them for our 10th annual PA of the Year Awards here.