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Corporate Culture

All Aboard: The Impending Return to the Office

Jake Winkler
Jake Winkler
Account Executive, Property Casualty

Growing up in a 4th generation family business that provides charter bus service breeds a passion for engaging with people. The bus business provided an opportunity for others to be social and connect in a group setting while they were safely transported down the road.

I loved every aspect of the group travel experience, so much that I obtained my Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) so I could be behind the wheel as well. By taking part in every aspect of my family’s business, I was able to go beyond just “managing the business” and personally ensure our passengers had smooth travel experiences without a glitch.

After watching our business disappear overnight last year, I received an opportunity to join the team at Holmes Murphy this past February. I completed my training and on-boarding at the office and in-person, and it was awesome. For those who are hesitant about returning the workplace, I say ALL ABOARD!

Disclaimer: Before I get too far into this blog, I want to state this is simply my opinion. In fact, while writing this blog, thoughts of “this article would be much easier to write about the benefits of staying home” and “this is likely an unpopular opinion among my peers” entered my mind. But hang with me a bit, and let me explain my thoughts…again, these are just mine.

The Transfer ‘Back to the Office’

As the life cycle of COVID-19 continues to decline, the return of an “in-person” work environment has seemingly become imminent. Many companies are beginning to call their staff back to the office for purposes of reducing cyber threats, increasing workplace efficiency, restoring the company culture, or just as an attempt to see a “normal” again.

Regardless of the motivation (and how one feels about that rationale), the when, where, and how details of restoring face-to-face office settings are underway across the country. This significant deviation from the “new normal” of the past 16 months has brought emotions of anxiety, stress, dread, and despair in many. I totally get it. Many reading this blog are probably in that position right now.

But, let me pose this question. What if the return to the office could turn out to be a positive change? I think it can be!

An Opportunity to Support Others in Difficult Circumstances

There are a multitude of people who are unable to return to (or maintain) employment without a major exodus back to the physical workplace. Whether it’s a bus driver waiting to provide shuttle services for large conferences, the chef at the best restaurant next to your office, the custodians who clean each office space, or the barista at the nearest coffee shop, there are countless people in all communities relying on the restoration of pre-pandemic routines for their livelihoods.

While the thought of “how can I return to the office every day?” may enter the brain with frequency, I find myself also considering those less fortunate whose reflections consist of “how will I feed my family and keep our house if my customers don’t return?” or “do I need to change my career because the demand is gone for good?”

This pandemic has been incredibly difficult for everyone, but the financial insecurities and the fear of an unstable future felt by those whose jobs have disappeared from the transition to at-home work can be alleviated by this progression back to the office.

Two office professionals shaking hands

(Re)Building Workplace Relationships

While technology has made remote communication easier, I think we can all agree the connections between colleagues (and clients) has not translated completely.

In the online work environment, communication is limited to a designated topic at a specific date and time. Just think about it. When was the last time a Zoom meeting was set up to ask how a coworker’s vacation went or to ask how their family is doing?

Yes, these social interactions could be viewed as a “waste of company time,” but on the other hand, when the relationships and community are taken out of the physical workplace, all that remains are robotic, repetitive task completions and cashing a paycheck. I don’t believe this is a long-term solution to a happy and fulfilling life…at least not for me, anyway.

When it is time to retire, will there be reminiscence about how much work was completed at the highest efficiency possible, or will those thoughts be filled with fond memories of lifelong friendships and comradery?

Relationships matter in the business world. I believe there must be a return to in-person work for new friendships to blossom and bonding among coworkers to develop again. It might just be time to meet that new person who has been on the team for six months now.

Better Separation of Work and Home

Before the pandemic, achieving an adequate work-life balance received extra focus and was much less complicated. There wasn’t a dual monitor computer set up in the guest room turned office. The house may have even had a separate home computer and work computer. Some may not have even had a laptop to bring home. The regular work hours of 8 a.m.-5 p.m. seems to have disappeared since the transition to working at home.

Regardless of the changes that have occurred, work is no longer something you can easily “turn on” and “turn off” based on the time of day. Now, of course, there were some people who lived in this manner before COVID-19; however, the number of people partaking in this practice today is much higher.

This lack of separation between work time and home time can quickly lead to burn out. Although work may never completely be “done for the day,” the disconnection between completing activities for one’s profession and spending quality time with family at home is more easily disentangled when performed at two separate locations.

Fear of Change

Like I mentioned in the beginning of this blog, this is a tough topic, as so many people have so many different feelings, and that is OK. I simply wanted to provide a different perspective.

It can be said that some of the resistance towards the return to the office is just a fear of change. Imagine before COVID-19 being told that starting in 30 days everyone is going to be working from home and the only answer to questions about this transition was “we will figure it out.” If that had occurred, instead of the pandemic, there would have been the same fear and anxiety being felt today about returning to the office.

As seen during the transition to working from home, lifestyles can quickly conform to a new routine. In fact, the anticipation of change can often be much worse than the change itself. Humans are incredibly adaptable to diverse circumstances. Although our professions may never identically mirror life before March 2020, for me, a return to the office is a step in the direction of normalcy. I see the shift from the “new normal” as a positive opportunity that shows our society is healing.

What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you. It’s fun to hear different perspectives and the “why” behind those perspectives. Let me know!

Whatever you decide is right for your business, Holmes Murphy can help you improve your company culture and mitigate your risk.

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