As many places ease up on restrictions, many people are facing the reality of going back to the office to work. Some are excited, some nervous, some are afraid, and other are faced with new realities that make going to the office difficult. Reopening the economy and just going back to “normal” is not that easy. I live in an area where we are still under stay at home orders, but we might be going back to the office in the next 2-3 weeks. The question my fellow workers ask is; what will the plan be? Are there going to be changes to our office environment?
Keep in mind I am just a cog in my office and have no authority whatsoever. But I do hear what people are saying and think their concerns should be addressed by someone in management. The first concern people have is the fact that we all work in a cubicle farm (no the pic at the top of this page is not my real office). We have the bare minimum of space between desks; you can fit a small desk and enough space to push back your chair a couple inches, then you are up against the wall to the next person. This is not 6 feet by any means. And lets not fool ourselves that the cubicle walls will protect anyone from the transmission of anything. In a normal year one person gets a cold and we all have it before the week is out.
In such a small pace we have many people packed in. Some of my coworkers who are in at risk groups are afraid to come back to the office. Will they get sick? Will they survive? If they survive will they have long term consequences to their health? These are all fair concerns and questions. Just this one scenario makes it pretty clear a one size fits all approach will not work and should not be applied. Someone suggested to me recently that if the people don’t like it they can work elsewhere. Well that is heartless and also not an easy answer. With so many people out of work those who do have a job are afraid to rock the boat and loose the stability of a job.
Another coworker has young children and she does not know what she will do with her children when we have to go back to the office. Schools are closed and so is daycare. If the daycare options are not available how can the organization expect a parent to come back to the office? It is not like you can leave a 6 year old at home alone all day. I don’t have kids so this is not an issue personally, but I feel empathy for my collogue who has to work to support her children.
Recently, I saw a post on LinkedIn where a mother had to bring her child to the office. That was very nice of her employer to understand the situation and make allowances. But lets face it, this is not an ideal solution either. This child was 2 or 3 years old and it is hard to keep young kids entertained and quiet for a whole work day. Kudos to the mom and the company for making it work for now though.
Other people I talk to are less specific in their worries; its just a general sense of nervousness. What will it be like to go back to the office; they ask. They are not really sure what it is that is making them worry, they just know they are worried. I think the constant news about doom and gloom is part of the problem. Yes we should be warned of the risks and what is going on in the world. But it seems like we can’t have any other news than how the pandemic impacts everything. It is hard to stay positive and that translates to a general sense of nervousness.
Personally, I am of two minds. I am looking forward to getting back to the office, at least part time. My job is very collaborative, the team has been doing well with collaboration tools provided by the company. But it is just not the same as a face to face brainstorming session or an in person class. On the other hand, I am dreading the daily commute, fighting traffic, paying for expensive parking, and paying expensive tolls; YUCK!!! Oh and the metro is closed in my area until the end of summer so extra traffic on the road.
It is undeniably a good thing to getting the economy going again and getting people back to work. But in my opinion, the plan to reopen cannot be one size fits all. Your people are one of the greatest assets an organization has; we are not robots, we are human. Organizations need to take a look at the human aspect of the scenario and try to find multiple solutions to finding a new normal. Be kind, be compassionate, be understanding, and most of all be human.