Going back to the office after a long period of working from home was rather daunting. I dreaded the thought of having to get up earlier, dress a bit better and be surrounded by lots of other people again. And yet, several months later, I can honestly say I love being back in the office. And here's why.
You Know Yourself
The current trend among a lot of companies is to promote hybrid working, having staff come into the office a minimum number of days a week. My own company is currently also employing this policy, although I will confess it is barely monitored and hardly a requirement, being more at individual managers' discretion. The trend remains, however, that with the Covid-19 pandemic being officially over staff are being told to come back to the office.
I was apprehensive at first. During my couple of years working from home, I worked very well. I am by no means a shy individual, and when I needed someone or something, I'm rather bullish in seeking it out. Being removed from other people I work with is not an issue for me; I proactively remain engaged with them. Also during this time I was able to get promoted. Working from home did not hinder my ability to excel.
The apprehension of going back to work wasn't so much in I felt I would be doing myself a disservice by hindering my ability to work at peak effectiveness. It was more an anxiety-driven response to a new (albeit former) situation. I knew that once I was back in the office a few weeks I would be working as well as I was from home, and would also enjoy myself more by being able to have random encounters that I did miss a lot since working from home.
But not everyone is like me. A lot of people are more introverted. And many people actually excel more by working from home, in a quieter location, surrounded by the comfortable and familiar. It is for these colleagues I feel sorry for. For the last few years they, like everyone else, have continued to work from home whilst not being able to go into the office. They have got settled, invested in, and excelled during their period of work from home. And almost with no regard to their personal circumstances and character, they are being told to come back to the office. I do find this unfair, as each employer should try to understand their needs of their employees better, and make accommodations for them.
Some people work better at home. They produce better output. Why have those people back in an environment where they produce not at optimum output?
I was requested to go back to the office by HR. I must admit, I was trying to hold off going back to the office for a few reasons.
- My husband's visa saga is still on-going and I was hoping to wait until he arrived in the UK before looking for accommodation for both of us.
- I currently live about 60 miles away from office and I refuse to commute to the office that distance.
- Moving back to the city is therefore a requirement, but I don't like living alone. Hence, back to the first point, of why I was waiting for my husband to arrive.
But HR, as ever, were not so understanding. And so, with sadness, I began to look for an apartment that would suit. Luckily, one trip to the city and I found the perfect (and expensive) apartment for rent that is across the road from the office. A 5 minute door-to-door walking commute. An absolute dream. And the apartment itself has a spectacular view.
Living next to work is very beneficial. The area is lovely, and the view is amazing. Also, if I need to be at home for anything such as the plumber coming to sort out the boiler (which happened in my first week living there), it's only a matter of popping over when they are en-route. As well, there is no rushing to work or away from work to beat traffic, as I only have to walk a few minutes and I've arrived.
Why I like the Office
Working from home was a great time in my career. I enjoyed it a lot, and if I had no need to go back to the office, I would probably still be doing it. But this would have been more out of routine than being the genuinely best thing for me to. Going back to the office after so long has let me reflect on the many things I actually enjoy about being back in the office.
- Water Cooler Chats
Water cooler chats only happen in the office. These are the conversations you have with no real intent, where you meet a colleague, usually from another team, in the kitchen area, and start chatting. There is no agenda, no desired outcome, and like any spontaneous chat, what you will gain is purely open to chance. So many of these conversations can lead to a greater understanding of what another team is doing, and even lead to gaining an awareness of some tool or process that could help with my work. Often times, water cooler chats are also just great banter, and that;s great too. These may not lead to moments of specific knowledge acquisition, but pure social contact across teams is also worth going to the office for.
My movement whilst working from home during Covid 19 greatly suffered. At the beginning, there were restrictions on going outside which was understandable. As these restrictions eventually subsided, my movement still didn't really improved. I got into a rut were exercise and movement was concerned, and since I was already in the house all day, working at a desk, by evening time I was mentally tired and not up for physical activity either. Going to the office challenges me on this front. Already moving in the morning to get to work, the idea of going out for a lunch time walk or afternoon tea break (weather permitting, of course) isn't such a chore. I definitely feel all the better for it.
- 'Can you look at this'
When working from home, getting a colleague to have a quick look at something is more of a determined action than simply rolling the chair over to another computer. It involves a Zoom call, exchanging of initial pleasantries on seeing each other face to face (electronically) for the first time that day, and then screen sharing. In the office it is just a much more effortless and carefree request. And the gains from having someone having a quick look at something are huge. This is probably what I missed most about working in the office, that very informal request for a quick 'eyeball' of my work.
- Team small chat
At the beginning of mandatory working from home, my manager started a weekly Zoom call for 30 minutes, for the team to get together and shoot the breeze. It was a nice way to stay connected on a more social level, and give off about Covid and tell each other how we were managing to cope staying at home all the time and not strangle our various relatives. Going back to the office, the small chats feel a lot more organic and less organised. An un-Zoom-ification of smalltalk. And a very welcome one. It is easier getting to know my team on a personal level face-to-face over the course of a day or a week, rather than during a 30 minute weekly Zoom call.
- Appreciate home more
The last thing I really like about going into the office is the appreciation of being at home after a day at work. Working from home and feeling stuck there can lead to resentment of being at home and more of a determination to get out. Going to the office every day, I greatly look forward to going home, chilling out, enjoying more quiet and having more me-time after a day socialising.
It's Me, Not You
I realise and appreciate not everyone likes going to the office. I also appreciate that some people do not excel as well in the office as they may do working from home. For companies attempting to strike the right balance, it is also a hard task. I am fortunate that I have found a good balance for myself, which is less about working in the office or working from home, and more about working and living in a place that has an enjoyable and minimal commute. Everyone working, in any industry, needs to try and make it work for them. For some, it will never seem right. For me, I'm very lucky as it's just right me.
I love being back in the office.
And that's me. Not you.