The business world finds itself in an interesting position. Many countries have made significant strides to emerge from lockdown as the spread of COVID-19 has slowed, and the need to work remotely is lessening as offices reopen. On the other hand, the lockdown time has made it abundantly clear that remote working is perfectly viable as an everyday standard.
Will we see a full return to the old way of doing things? That seems tremendously unlikely (and ill-advised): we’ve learned far too much from this mandatory operational experiment. Just think about how many companies have increased productivity by eliminating commuting time. But we also need to remember what the classic physical office means to so many companies.
Status: showing the world that they’re successful. Convenience: getting everyone together. Enjoyment: working in conditions far more comfortable than a typical home office could provide.
The allure of these things will ensure that countless companies return to their offices — but they should apply some benefits of working remotely learned in the past few months, to lead to some new and improved office practices. Here are four in particular that are worth prioritizing:
Back when most workers were stuck in their offices and capable of talking to one another at any time, communication got taken for granted. When team members got separated by vast distances and were required to collaborate online, it became clear just how crucial internal communication is. It’s simple, when you can’t resolve a moment of confusion through an in-person catch-up, you need to get your point across as straightforwardly as possible.
Going back to your office space, that option will be on the table again, but you shouldn’t need it. Stopping everything to have an in-person chat can seriously mess with productivity: not only taking valuable time out of your day but also distracting other people in the office and reducing output. Communicate effectively through your internal system: it’ll save time.
Imagine the well-established office setup: identikit desks, identikit seats, identikit displays. This approach ensured that no one had it any worse than anyone else, but it also held back progress by making it harder to imagine doing things differently. When it suddenly became necessary for so many people to set up home offices in different conditions, creativity began to flow.
Remote workers returning to office life should be allowed to optimize their workstations in unique ways that suit their preferences. Someone with a MacBook might want to pick up a Mac docking station to serve as a Thunderbolt 3 hub, for instance, while the user of a high-end Windows laptop might want a cooling tray to allow better performance — and then there’s the matter of seating.
Give every office worker a budget and stop requiring every desk to look the same. The more people can feel comfortable in their environments, the more productive they’ll be.
Do we need to go back to starting at nine and finishing at 5? Why? The international business operates at all hours these days. Most of the requirements that traditionally drove offices to keep set hours (newspaper publishing deadlines, for instance) are no longer important. Remote working has clearly shown that it doesn’t matter when workers start their days.
Beyond that, though, it’s also shown that how many hours you work matters less than companies always thought. Productivity isn’t static: it wavers from minute to minute, and different people have different working preferences. Some like to work heatedly in short bursts. Others want to work steadily over long periods. Experiment with flexible schedules and set clear targets, know what they need to get done and when, and decide how they proceed.
Get into the office, have a five-minute meeting. Work for a couple of hours. Have another meeting. Stop for lunch, work for an hour, then gather everyone together for another meeting. The old office life involved a lot of meetings — and it became painfully obvious when remote working became the norm that most of those meetings are entirely unnecessary.
As it turns out, professionals can mostly get on with what they need to do without being guided or prodded. Meetings sap productivity when they’re not essential (and some are, of course, but I’m not saying you should discontinue meetings altogether). Due to this, you should ensure that every meeting on the agenda has a clear purpose that makes it worthwhile.
As offices reopen throughout the world, we can revitalize the tired office routine by drawing upon our experiences working remotely. One thing is abundantly clear: the future lies in flexibility and adaptability.