What to Expect on Your Return to In-person Work
With the end of the omicron surge in sight and mask mandates ending across the country, the long-delayed return to the office is finally on the horizon for many employees. But if you haven’t been back to the office since March 2020, what does the return to in-person work look like?
Ideally, you’ve already had a chance to toss dead plants and expired snacks. You’ll have plenty of other things to deal with—returning to the office is anything but returning to a pre-COVID “normal.”
Adjusting to a hybrid workforce
The COVID-19 pandemic removed any remaining barriers to the idea that most office jobs could be performed effectively from home. Employers no longer have a strong argument against WFH arrangements—and with so many employers offering at least partially remote assignments, employees have plenty of options if their current employer is reluctant. According to February 2022 statistics from the Pew Research Center, about six in 10 workers whose jobs can be done from home are working remotely. This is down from 71 percent in October 2020, but more than twice as many as pre-pandemic (23 percent). WFH is here to stay.
But most employees aren’t going full-time remote. Companies and employees alike want to experiment with a hybrid format, attempting to get the best of both worlds. That means you may find yourself in the office two or three days a week—and in meetings with both in-person and remote attendees. Holding effective meetings where some attendees are sitting in the conference room, and some are on video-conferencing software requires intention and the right technology. Some companies have also downsized their physical footprints, eliminating individual workspaces and reconfiguring offices to maximize their use for collaboration. In other words, you may no longer report to a cubicle but to a conference room.
Expecting differing levels of comfort with COVID-19
According to the Pew study, about half of current remote workers said they’d feel comfortable returning to their office in the next month given current COVID-19 conditions, which is up from 36 percent in October 2020. But there’s great variance within “comfortable,” with concerns about COVID-19 exposure varying by age, race, gender, and income. For instance, 60 percent of workers younger than 30 expressed concerns about COVID-19 exposure at work, with lesser concern among older cohorts.
Satisfaction with employers’ COVID-19 protocols also varies among employees. Fewer than half of current hybrid workers (36 percent) are “very satisfied” with their employers’ mitigation strategies. You may find yourself working alongside colleagues who feel very differently than you about vaccines and masks.
Planning to say goodbye to old colleagues and welcome new ones
The Great Resignation is no hoax. In 2021, an average of 3.95 million workers quit their jobs each month, the highest average on record with the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In December 2021 alone, 4.3 million workers, or about 3 percent of the U.S. workforce, quit their jobs. The seismic shift in the workforce has caused employees to reevaluate what they expect from their employers (such as opportunities for remote work), and the job market is definitely a quitter’s market. Even if you’re not planning a move, you can expect a shift in your work team—if you haven’t seen one already.
Figuring out new routines
Two years of sleeping in vs. commuting, wearing loungewear, and consistent access to your refrigerator will have disrupted your old office schedule. In a hybrid-type role, you’ll need to get up earlier to make it to the office in time, wear business attire, and pack or buy a lunch at least a few days a week. But you may still have some days where you can flexibly float between personal and professional responsibilities. You’ll need to adjust your lifestyle accordingly and figure out the right work/home boundaries for this environment.
Living with the unknown
As we’ve learned in the past two years, “following the science” is not an exact science, and while many experts think omicron is the last big wave of COVID-19, some people said that about delta, too. Another variant may be on the horizon, or another pandemic could someday emerge. The possibility of stricter disease prevention protocols or further periods of remote work is something we must live with.
The only certainty? Nothing will ever be “normal” again.