Returning to the office and an introduction to blended working

The return to the office is something that I’d started to build up on my head. Anxious about returning without being double vaccinated, but not wanting to go to an office that was socially distanced and with lots of new rules, it felt an awful lot easier just to stay at home. However, I knew that once I’d started to pull the plaster off, I would find it much easier to adapt to. I’ve been really lucky as my work have been pretty flexible about how and when we start to return. It was strongly encouraged that we used the summer to start getting more used the the office environment again, before a blended approach would be in place from the autumn. Deep down, I knew I would be fine going back but I had found myself getting stressed about silly little things so decided it was time to rip the plaster off. I’ve now been making use of the office again for the past two months and there are a number of pros and cons I’ve found about having returned.

The good things about being back in the office

My Walking Commute

I knew that this was one of the things that I had missed the most about working from home, yet despite that I still wasn’t consistently going for a walk before I started work because it was easier to just sit down and start getting through my to do list. I’ll be honest, now it’s started raining again this has become slightly less appealing, but each day I’ve arrived in the office I’ve felt mentally ready to start work. I’ve also felt more ready to enjoy the evening as I can walk out and work through the stresses of the day before returning home.

I’d forgotten some of the simple things, like how nice some of the gardens I walk past look at different times of year, and how I enjoy having a nosy in the estate agent’s windows that I pass. I’d also forgotten that I used to quite frequently use my walk home to call my family and have a catch up, fitting it into the day quite naturally.

People are happy to see you

I hadn’t quite realised how genuinely delighted everyone would be to see each other. It’s still a novelty seeing colleagues that I haven’t seen in person since last March, or meeting people for the first time who have started the company since we began working from home. Everyone is really pleased to see each other which makes for a real sense of community and warmth that I possibly hadn’t noticed previously. I think it’s likely that this will fade in time, but whilst it’s a novelty to see different people it’s really nice.

It’s easier to finish on time

At home, you rely on a clock and the other person in the room to help you keep track of time and when it might be a sensible time to leave. In the office, there’s no escaping it when gradually the room empties out and people say their farewells as they leave for the day. The days I have been in the office I have left work on time much more consistently than at any point when I’ve been working from home. It’s so much easier to just carry on with that one small extra task when you know it’s only a couple of steps to your kitchen to start cooking dinner, and your partner is still working anyway. In the office, as soon as other people start to leave you begin to question why you are still there, especially if you’ve been the first one to arrive. Those visual cues are so much more helpful than it just reaching a time of day when nobody is sending emails any more.

Screen fatigue is less of an issue

On my days in the office I’ve had the delight of several in-person meetings. Meetings where I don’t have to stare at a laptop screen, and actually work better if I’m just accompanied by a notepad and pen. I’ve also re-adopted my old habit of popping down to someone’s desk when I have a quick question. I could still use Teams, as we’ve been doing from home, but actually there’s less confusion when talking something through and it’s an easy way to fit in a quick five minute screen break. I’ve finished the day with my eyes feeling much less tired, which has been great.

Variety is the spice of life

There’s much more variety in your life as soon as you start going to another place. I feel like I have much more to talk about on an evening now, simply because I’ve got more varied surroundings. I might have seen something on my walk to or from work, or have a funny anecdote from what someone else in the office might have done. Although in reality, my working day is very similar to if I had been at home, it feels like I have a lot more to say simply because I’ve been in a different place.

The less good things about returning to the office

Lunch breaks are back at my desk

One of the worst things about my office is that there isn’t really anywhere nice to eat lunch, especially not if it is one that you’ve brought yourself. One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about working from home has been giving myself a proper lunch break which has been away from my desk. As expected, as soon as I was back in the office, I started eating at my desk again and working through my lunch break.

There’s a lot more planning required

When I was in the office pre-pandemic I had a set desk, which had my computer, monitors, keyboards and mice all set up for me. I had desk drawers to keep any notes in and didn’t have to think too much about what I was bringing to and from the office each day. Now it feels like every day needs much more planning about what I need to bring with me, or take away again. If I’m in the office on consecutive days then there’s a certain amount that I can leave behind, but with all the to-ing and fro-ing there’s more to carry around. For the moment it’s not too bad, but I know after the first time I forget my wrist rest or special mouse it will start to feel a bit more wearing.

Meetings in an open plan office are the worst

Every Monday we start the week with an all company meeting, where everyone has the opportunity to give a quick update. Doing this when a few staff are in the office, and most are remote is bizarre. The meeting still takes place online, but you can hear some of the updates through your headphones and in real life as that person is sitting at the desk behind you. If someone starts a side conversation in the office, it’s distracting from what is taking place through your headphones. At the moment, there are few enough of us in that most people are taking their laptop to an empty meeting room when they have an online meeting. However, as soon as there are more of us back this won’t be feasible anymore. So we’ll all be sitting in the same room trying to have different meetings. I’ve always found an open plan office distracting, but this is going to take things to the next level.

Hybrid meetings are bizarre

I’ve also had a couple of hybrid meetings where a few of us are in an office meeting room, and the remainder of people are joining from their laptops remotely. This was a normal set-up in one of my previous jobs where we were actually split over multiple sites so video conferencing was the most efficient way to have regular meetings with the necessary people. However, it’s something that most people just aren’t used to and it can make for an even more stilted meeting. If the people in the same room put a virtual hand up, people at the other end aren’t sure who it is in the room who wants to speak. And so much reliance has been placed on using the ‘chat’ function in meetings, that you actually end up using a laptop to interact, even if you’ve got everyone in front of you on a big screen. I think it’s going to take quite a bit of adapting to.

For now, I’m enjoying my return to the office and have been pleasantly surprised that it hasn’t been as busy as I expected, allowing for a more gentle introduction back to office working. I do have visions of chaos in a few weeks as more people return, there aren’t enough desks or meeting rooms and everyone wonders if they were better off at home. Now that some of those ‘corridor conversations’ have started up again I think there are likely to be more issues with internal communication, and I suspect that the office will be much quieter on Mondays and Fridays. I guess only time will tell, and it will take time to adapt to this ‘blended working’ approach.

Have you returned to the office? How are you finding it?

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