This article was first published in the Globe and Mail — see my latest columns here.
“Can’t wait to get back to the office. Terrified of going back. Not sure what to wear. Dreading the commute. Excited to see the team. Haven’t yet met the team in person. And what to do with the new puppy?”
These are just a few of the emotions and dilemmas in play as workers navigate a return to the office in the current phase of the pandemic. With a mixed bag of realities, some workplaces are easing into back-to-office models with hybrid or flexible arrangements; others have established mandatory policies; and some are in a wait-and-see mode.
Amid all this, there are a number of people reluctant to return to the office. Paradoxically, many who initially struggled with the tricky parts of working from home have since adapted – so much so they are now resisting the call back to work.
I’ve had many conversations with people about their back-to-work quandaries. One woman declared she would leave her long-time job if forced to go back to the office. Like others, she has grown to appreciate the conveniences of a blended work-life arrangement. The transitions from workday to home time are easier, especially for parents with young children. They can more quickly immerse in family time at the end of the day. Others are enjoying the ease of getting stuff done with less distraction and more flexibility. Then there is the freedom of taking a quick jog midday before a 1 p.m. meeting. Zoom doesn’t reveal their unshowered scent.
Convenience, productivity, autonomy and more casual dress codes are some of the rewards that have surfaced for many during the past two years.
I get it. I’ve been enjoying the rewards of a home-based work life for years. I was in one of the earliest waves of professionals to hang my own shingle as a solopreneur and am forever grateful for opportunities to work with people and organizations from far away – thank you Zoom.
But I do wonder about the shadow side of losing too much in-person connection, particularly for those earlier in their career or with a lot of career mileage ahead.
What gets lost when convenience overshadows connection?
When I have been part of a team, I have learned so much from the people I worked with directly and from those I interacted with less formally, too. So many of those early relationships became lifelong connections. Some, even good friends.
Will these same kinds of relationships be built and endure with similar depth in a largely virtual world? Maybe. But maybe not.
Ideas, relationships, connections don’t always happen in scheduled time. It’s often the organic, ad hoc, in-between moments that catalyze insights and opportunities to bond.
One of my clients retired several years ago. In her speech at a celebratory event, she said she enjoyed her work immensely, but it was the relationships that made the biggest difference to her and what she would most remember.
Relationships can keep on giving long after the gig is done.
Relationships are an essential ingredient in healthy networks, and crucial for career navigation. While it may be a workers’ job market now, it isn’t always so. Having a strong network is an ace in the deck when you are ready or need to move on to another job. Working from home doesn’t mean you can’t build or maintain a network, but you will need to be even more intentional in efforts to build and maintain those relationships.
Spark creativity and innovation
Collaboration, creativity and innovation are crucial for today’s economy. While we thankfully have virtual connecting platforms, there is something to be said for happenstance conversations that can spark organic insights. In time-pressured, overscheduled work lives, this can get lost.
Belonging – a hard-wired primal human need
The link between connection and belonging can’t be overstated. It is a hard-wired, human need. Even simple, friendly interactions can keep us healthier, happier and promote better thinking. Burnout is no stranger to the isolated, overworked remote worker. Overweighting convenience and productivity without due attention to that very human need to connect can have dire consequences on our professional and personal well-being.
Mine for the gold and diversify your work rewards
I’m not advocating for one model or the other. I’m simply highlighting the need to be mindful of the diverse array of rewards that can affect our experience of work and life. Overweighting one reward at the expense of another can be costly.
We live and work in times of flux. What may work today may not tomorrow. But connection is a currency that will always give back. Find ways to get it no matter what work model you land in.
Eileen Chadnick PCC, of Big Cheese Coaching, works with leaders (emerging to experienced), and organizations, on navigating, leading and flourishing in times of flux, opportunity and challenge. She is the author of Ease, Manage Overwhelm in Times of Crazy Busy.