The hidden benefits of returning to work in the office

by | Mar 24, 2022

For many, working from home was an unexpected gift during the pandemic, albeit one that came alongside a global challenge and tragedy.

Parents and other work-life integration experts relished the benefits of a more flexible lifestyle. One could stuff a load of laundry into the dryer or run to the store in between Zoom meetings. And without a commute, people working from home could repurpose those hours of drive time into something more productive or enjoyable.

There were challenges of course – the mute button, frozen wi-fi, a loud pet, or a spouse or child videobombing across your background. These factors, overlaid with the difficulty of separating work and home, have many questioning the long-term viability of remote work.

Could it be, that we were actually happier going to the office?

There could still be joy in an office environment – benefits we may be more aware of after trying the “new normal” for a few years. Let’s explore some of those benefits now. 

The return of non-verbal cues and body language

A head nod, another person’s smile, a high-five, or two thumbs-up.

These are the kinds of indicators we look for when presenting or talking during a meeting to get a sense of validation and recognition. Non-verbal body motion and facial expressions play a large role in how we see ourselves, personally and professionally. When our work went virtual, video conferencing capabilities allowed virtual face-to-face meetings, but we lost that in-person smile or nod.

After two years of pandemic-induced isolation, some of us are finding that presenting to a live audience, collaborating with others in the room, and experiencing those non-verbal cues elevates our confidence and happiness, even well after the workday has ended.

It works in the other direction too. When we regain the power to convey messages non-verbally, we feel more seen, heard, and understood.

Working smarter, not harder

Early in the pandemic, organizations reported unprecedented levels of productivity.

But further analysis found much of this increase was merely a result of workdays starting earlier than normal and ending later than usual. As a result, many individuals reported feeling burnt out during the pandemic.

A survey conducted by Indeed, the online job search site, found two thirds of those surveyed felt burnout increased during the pandemic.

The initial thrill of leaving behind trains, planes, and automobiles was soon replaced by the realization that commuting provided much needed time to decompress from the workday. Listening to a podcast, online shopping, or catching up with friends and family was precious personal time that many did not reschedule when commutes were no longer necessary.

Creativity and collaborative outcomes also were challenged during the pandemic.

While many utilized virtual whiteboards and screen sharing, research shows that person-to-person business meetings are more likely to yield better outcomes, including timely decision making and more complex strategic thinking.

Physical proximity lends itself to easier and quicker alignment than communicating over email, phone, and videoconferencing. A one-hour, in-person meeting is often more valuable than four hours of zoom calls.

The camera and the monitor-mirror

Happy hours, lunches, coffee chats – all of these technically can be achieved virtually. Initially, our video conferencing tools provided an outlet for that personal connection.

But as time progressed, the fatigue of forced social interactions, coupled with the exhaustion of seeing oneself in the corner of the screen, led to many turning off their cameras while on videoconference meetings.

To address this fatigue, some companies have begun decreeing “no meeting” days, or days where cameras would not be turned on. Still, most of us remain uncertain about when and whether it’s okay to go off camera. 

Where do we go from here?

Those of us going back to the office may feel as children do when they head back to school after summer: excited, nervous, and ready for the new experiences ahead. 

It goes without saying that safety is key.

Organizations must have a plan that allows everyone to feel safe while returning to work. Many have implemented safety procedures through hybrid working environments, mandatory vaccination / mask policy, and other procedures.

With properly implemented safety procedures, perhaps we can return to the office with a renewed appreciation of our home away from home.

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Alyssa Curci, Vice President of Product and Delivery Services

Alyssa is Vice President of Product and Delivery Services, responsible for supporting clients with digital product strategies and successful development and deployment of new products and services. Alyssa has over 11 years of experience, specializing in technology across product management, project management, and technical operations.

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