Forget free coffee, what really matters is whether employees feel it’s worth coming back to the office

Special for Infobae of New York Times.

Commuting to and from work used to be such a regular part of Tim Hirzel’s routine that he did it almost without thinking. Later, during the pandemic, as he worked from his home in Quincy, Massachusetts, he got used to a different lifestyle. He is now moving again, but this takes so much time and effort (showering, getting dressed, packing his things, traveling), that he allocates a space in his schedule to do it.

Hirzel works at a Boston-based tech startup that has offered employees the flexibility to drop in whenever they want. But Hirzel, who also has to take his children to school, has not chosen to stay home all the time. He says that he goes to the office when it makes sense for him to be there: when he goes to meet new employees or to work face-to-face with his co-workers. And he likes to be there when he sees that there is a reason to do so.

“The feeling of being in a room with a blackboard and three or four people together is unique,” he said. “People’s body language is present and it’s possible to have a conversation.”

Many employees did not want to return to the office. That’s why they opposed the return-to-office policies and pushed for more flexibility. Now that this long-awaited return has already taken place, the big question is: how is everything going?

The answer to the questions The New York Times posed to various readers who were working remotely and are now in the office at least part of the time is that their lives have changed during the pandemic and they have had to dismantle the lifestyle that they had at home. It has been difficult managing childcare and finding the time to continue exercising. Many people mentioned that now the dog is not happy.

Even if the company offered free refreshments, returning to the office after such a long absence was always going to be a stressful transition. But the answers revealed that there was something that helped with this important change: the fact that employees believe that it makes sense to be in the office and that they can maintain some control over their time.

Megan Lynch, an analyst who works for the federal government in Washington, said the pandemic had allowed her and her family to live an easier lifestyle: spending more time in sweatpants or sitting by a window with a heating pad. . Lynch did not want to return, but she has also recognized that the move is not so terrible, that no one in her family is immunosuppressed and that being with her colleagues is advantageous for her and for her work.

“We kind of forget about all the cool or clever things that can come from those unexpected interactions when you bump into someone in the hallway or in the bathroom and they start a conversation,” he said.

In addition, their office managers have shown interest, listening to employees when they vent, consulting with people on the best way to implement the return, and being flexible about the days employees need to be in the office. .

Office commutes resumed along with the dizzying logistics that so many parents know about getting organized after school: the perplexing subject of what happens between the end of the school day, the end of the workday, and the scant amount of time in which dinner must be served.

That was the part that worried many parents of school-age children, and it remains a challenge, especially for women. Working parents said the return to the office reinstated the daunting task of organizing the family’s schedule and the rounds to get children to school, a burden some mothers feel falls disproportionately on their shoulders.

The pandemic has also given people the opportunity to spend more time with their families, take lunchtime walks, schedule therapy appointments and get a good night’s sleep. Life could be lived in a different way.

Although their lifestyle at home was disrupted, readers who recognized the value of returning said they agreed with the policy of returning to the office. Some even said they liked being back… as long as the conditions were compatible, at least in part, with the habits they developed during the pandemic.

“As a hybrid employee, I believe I have the best of both worlds and value both types of my workday,” wrote Mel Burt-Gracik, manager of training and development at a manufacturing company in Southern California. “I love the flexibility of days when I do homework (as my kids tell them), I can take breaks as needed, use the time I don’t use commuting to exercise and prepare healthy meals for my family.”

“On real work days (also named after my offspring), I love to dress up, see people in meetings or in the hallways and all that I can bring to the culture of communication and affection when I am present with the people”.

But employees who felt they could do their jobs just as well from home, or who returned to offices that were empty or saw little collaboration, told us they didn’t like coming back.

For these employees, the face-to-face modality did not justify everything they had to give up: time to meditate or go for a run, walk their children to school or take care of their relatives. They described being in the office as a bureaucratic requirement that was not worth all the expense and hassle.

Kristie Rogers, a management professor at Marquette University who does research on respect at work, noted that in times of change like this, people are very aware of what’s going on around them and how they’re being treated. which implies pressure for their bosses.

Managers should thoroughly explain to their employees why they want them back in the office and include them in the process of making it happen, Rogers said.

“If you have a hybrid way of working, it’s critical that employees understand that it really helps to be together,” said Rogers, who teaches classes both in-person and remotely, almost always doing his research at home. “If we don’t all see that utility, people will feel slighted and misunderstood.”

It can be hard to convey the usefulness of being in the office, but readers mentioned that face-to-face meetings are more efficient, brainstorms are more productive, and it’s easier to get to know colleagues.

All this helps a lot to make them more accepting of not having as much control over their time.

This is an especially difficult time for those who feel they have no choice but to return to the office, said Allison S. Gabriel, a professor in the Eller School of Management at the University of Arizona.

“People used to have a lot of autonomy and now that they go back to work, they feel like it’s been stolen from them,” Gabriel said.

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