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5 Ways to Foster Positive Return-to-Office Experience


Photo of young women professional returning to work
Image: Shopping King Louie -
As I’ve shared previously on WorkSpace Connect, adapting to the new normal of life back in the office will require behavioral change and judicious use of technology, as Melissa Marsh, a social researcher with her firm PLASTARC and occupancy experience expert with Savills, a global real estate services provider, has proposed.
At this point, however, what the “new normal back in the office” means is mostly theoretical. If creating a collaborative, connected workplace was a goal prior to the global office shutdown, hopefully it remains one moving forward. But key stakeholders — IT, real estate/facilities, and HR professionals included — have much to consider in their re-occupancy planning.
Marsh, as I’ve shared here and here, has given this considerable thought. She doesn’t purport to have all the answers — everybody is experimenting, as she noted — but does have a few suggestions and guidelines she feels are worth remembering when trying to foster a positive return-to-the-office experience.
  1. The more visible things are, the greater their presence of mind — Think of a social distancing model or a model in which in-office employees must wear face masks. Visual reminders of the crisis at hand can be both good and bad, Marsh said. While they’re good nudges to do our best to “stay healthy and make the right decisions, moment by moment, they can also have the diminishing effect of stressing us out or more permanently putting this current state of being in our minds.” In other words, the longer we practice social distancing or wear face masks at work, say, the longer these norms and behaviors will stay with us. “Just as we can’t say how long this [situation] will be, we can’t say how impactful it will be on people.”
  2. User experience matters — When implementing new precautionary measures, such as temperature scanning systems or digital sign-in systems for traceability, decision-makers should do so with an eye on making the experience seamless and non-disruptive. Logically, we can assume that the more obtrusive a new building or office system is, the more it will stress people out. “So, what’s the benefit of coming to the office if by the time you get there, you’re in a tizzy because of everything you had to do to get there, and then you can’t really focus on your work anyway?” Marsh asked rhetorically. The conversation about stress in the workplace was already significant, and now it’s even more so, she added.
  3. Returning to work will require some give and take — Employers carry the onus of creating safe and comfortable workspaces for employees to return to once work-from-home (WFH) orders lift. They’ll need to communicate that certainty to employees, but recognize that this needs to be a managed conversation with individuals about their return to the office based on what they personally believe is the healthy, safe, and comfortable scenario for them, Marsh said.
  4.  Hierarchical-driven decisions about who needs to be in an office require a rethink — Prior to the WFH-for-most mandate, many companies obligated junior- and administrative-level employees to work in the office, while higher-level personnel had the flexibility to work remotely. Companies must really question the assumptions that led to that sort of decision making, and learn from the experience of these last couple of months, Marsh said. “There need to be much smarter ways of determining who is mission-critical and who must return to work [in an office].”
  5. Workplace best practices like nature-based design become even more important post-COVID — Nature is a large part of creating emotional security and practical healthful perspective, so companies should consider how best to extend the feeling of being outdoors in their inside workspaces, Marsh said. This means plenty of daylight, fresh air circulation, and use of greenery, for example.
Do these recommendations resonate with your organization? Share in the comments below.