3 Key Perspectives on Returning to Offices Post-COVID

I recently had the opportunity to address a group of high-powered female attorneys at Bass, Berry & Sims on returning to the office in the wake of COVID. Although the firm’s specific plans were undefined, these women were watching client offices open, and being invited to in-person meetings. Like many of us, they have spent the previous fifteen months eagerly awaiting this reopening. Now that it’s here, we have mixed feelings. The most significant takeaway from the conversation was that the new normal will not be the old normal. Here are three key perspective and behavior shifts identified both by the attorneys, and some of my other coaching clients.

  1. Hybrid work is here to stay. A recent McKinsey study showed that 52% of workers want a flexible work schedule, nearly double the pre-pandemic’s 30%. Reasons for this shift are as varied as the surveyees. In our group, they ranged from improved familial relationships to lunches spent with spouses and kids and the uninterrupted time at home, which led to increased productivity. At the same time, the group acknowledged the irreplaceable benefits of seeing colleagues and clients in person. Rather than go all-in on one or the other, people are excited about hybrid blends.
  1. Staffing shortages and supply chain issues are impacting us – but it’s not all negative. In June, I took my kids to an ice cream shop/soda fountain, and we were told it would be a twenty minute wait when we arrived. I noticed half the tables were empty.  When I asked why, the host explained that they were so short-staffed they could only operate at half capacity. The same week, I received notice that the delivery of a bicycle I ordered in November 2020 was delayed once again – until August 2021 at the earliest. Such disruption is now a fact of life, but our collective patience has increased. Pre-pandemic, I likely would have been frustrated about not being seated immediately. Now, I am deeply grateful to the server for doing a great job while caring for her tables nonstop. Might this increased empathy last?
  1. The pandemic did not affect all workers equally. For the most part, those whose work shifted seamlessly from the office to home had it easy compared to frontline workers. While maintaining relationships via Zoom, managing online school for children and retrofitting dining room tables into home offices all presented challenges, most remote workers I know acknowledge that the challenges for those working outside the home were far more difficult. Some of us even celebrated strong business performance in 2020. Many who fared well experienced guilt at their good fortune, and have renewed senses of compassion and commitment to caring for fellow community members. Incorporating this awareness into our “new normal” is a focus for many professionals I coach.

Each of us experienced pandemic life differently, and many people around the world continue to suffer horrific outbreaks resulting in catastrophic loss of life. As we slowly and cautiously return to life out of lockdown, our perspectives are permanently altered.

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