As countries begin to emerge from the pandemic, and organisations start to look at their working practices again, there’s a growing consensus that a so-called Hybrid Model of 2 days in the office and 3 days at home is the optimum balance of work and home life.
In theory, this allows people to combine time at home, when they take care of their family, with a couple of days in the office where they catch up face to face with colleagues.
In reality, instead of bringing teams closer together, a lot of organisations are creating resentment among employees and instead of bringing teams together, they are highlighting divisions between people who have children and those who don’t, people, who live alone vs those with partners and those who live nearby to the office vs those further away.
How Working From Home Affected People
To understand how returning to the office will impact people we first need to look at how the lockdown affected different people in different ways and it’s not always straightforward. We spoke to a number of people about their experience of working from home and how they feel about returning to the office
Rohit who works at a legal consulting company found the two years of working from home generally positive. He has a 5-year-old daughter and his wife works as well so trying to balance both of their commutes and the school run used to be exhausting. Working from home made the school run a civilised experience and gave them time to pursue new pastimes and do more exercise.
Sophie, an IT consultant at a telecoms company and a parent of two young girls found the extra time to handle the school run was a lifeline but she missed ‘the escape’ that the office provided from her domestic routine. Although going back to the office will be a major logistical challenge she is actually looking forward to seeing other adults again.
For Matt, a product owner, who lives alone in central London, the experience was lonlely and at times depressing. He described work and home life merging into endless days often with no actual contact with anyone in the outside world. Virtual drinks and quizzes seemed like a poor substitute for real-life social events.
Speaking to people about their experiences, it’s difficult to draw general conclusions about specific groups such as parents / non-parents or single people vs those with partners because their experience depends on so many different factors. If you’re looking at how working from home and returning to work may impact your team you need to consider a range of factors:
New Routines, New Responsibilities....
As people adjusted to a new way of living over two years of lockdowns and working from home their lives began to gradually shift away from the fixed pattern of school run, commute, work as our home and work lives become much more intertwined.
In the UK 3.2 million households have acquired pets (like Smokey on the left) since the start of the pandemic. Many people started exercise routines during the middle of the day - especially in winter to make the most of the light.
Many people have reorganised their child care. Doing the school run themselves instead of hiring child care..
Even our sleep patterns have changed as a result of the lockdown with several people mentioning that they tend to go to bed and get up later with no commute in the morning.
and a new Sense of Personal Freedom
Over the course of the pandemic people have changed, not just in the way they manage their lives, but also psychologically Most people we spoke to have come to view their time as something that belongs much more to them and not necessarily their employer.
This can cause problems if employers start to mandate, for example, returning to the office on 2 fixed days per week and specify the hours. Not only is this difficult for people to fit in around their new routines; it also jars with the sense of autonomy they’ve enjoyed during the last 2 years.
Bringing Teams Back Together
Get to know people’s situations and how they feel
As home and work lives have become interconnected, team members need to know a lot more about each other, their personalities, their home situations and their emotions if they want to work effectively in a hybrid environment. Without this managers and team members risk upsetting peoples new routines.and causing division.
The following techniques can help teams get to know and understand each other:
- Use Team mood Check-Ins to help teams to understand how they feel about returning to the office.
- Encourage people to take a break together (either virtually or in person) let people build social connections and discuss non-work topics
- Try sharing personal stories at the beginning or end of a meeting to help people connect on a personal level.
As employers and managers start trying to get people to return to the office they often set a target for people to work 2-3 days a week in the office on specific days so that people actually get to meet each other on the days they’re in. This makes sense in theory - it gets the team to connect but in practice, it makes life difficult. Let people set their own goals for getting back to the office and take it one step at a time
Give people a choice - even if it means some people don’t come in at all.
Don’t expect people to be ‘glued to their desks’ all day when they do come in. People aren’t used to being micro-managed anymore and they expect to manage their own time both in and out of the office.
Re-think what people are expected to do in the office - make sure they have enough time to mix informally as well in meetings and workshops.
Be careful of combining social events with days in the office - make at least part of the event during office hours so everyone can attend.