I was recently thinking about my life before the pandemic. I traveled for work and pleasure regularly, worked from the office full time when I wasn’t on the road, and had an active social life that included weekends packed with activities and lots of weeknight outings. Mystery science theater at midnight? Absolutely! Concert on a Tuesday night? Why not? I got it all done with a smile and no bags under my eyes.
Then, like everyone else, my life came to a complete stop with the pandemic. I adjusted to no travel, no activities, and learning how to work from home in a very solitary way. Over the past few months, I’ve begun my journey back to “normal”, working from the office part-time and starting to see family and friends again. It’s unexpected and energizing to interact with people outside of my household! Seeing a movie in a theater or music live is magical, just like the first time. But guess what? I can’t keep up with the laundry and I go to bed exhausted every night. Seriously. When did we do laundry pre-pandemic? How did we fit it in? I swear I remember wearing clean clothes...was that my imagination?
In my role, a lot of people ask me about what the future of work looks like. We talk about the hybrid work model and how we are all going to find the balance between both worlds. In theory, we want to take the best parts of working from home and working in the office and be the most productive workforce ever. That means when we are home, we will have flexible schedules and dedicated focus time. When we are in the office, we will be able to make quick, in person decisions, creatively brainstorm with our teams, and rebuild our culture by the water cooler. It sounds like what we’ve always dreamed about. But is it that easy?
I believe we have some challenges ahead figuring out how we each will really work best and how we can optimize the places we work. At Macmillan Learning, we have been assessing our existing office spaces. What elements of the office environment have we missed and are excited to have again? Conference rooms, office equipment and desk space are at the top of our lists. But, what isn’t working for us any more?
As we walk our spaces, it’s become clear that our time at home has changed what we expect from our work environment. We are adding soft-seating groupings and incorporating visual interest with art and decoration that mimic the cozier elements we have been working in at home. From a functionality standpoint, we have been testing and updating our A/V and collaboration technology in our meeting rooms. Participation equity for both at home and in-office meeting participants has taken on a whole new meaning, and we know we can make our hybrid meetings better and more productive.
More complicated is how we approach adjusting to hybrid work schedules. The “best of both worlds” work week has actually proven to be pretty complicated in the onset. Socializing in an office environment again can be daunting at first. Things that came so easily before the pandemic, like getting dressed and packing a bag for the day, seem to take an extra amount of thought and preparation. When you layer in coordinating in-office schedules with teammates, and remembering where you left your meeting notes or favorite sweater, you may find yourself wondering if the juggle is even worth it.
So my advice is this: as you begin your journey into our new hybrid world, I’d encourage you to start small. Try a day in the office, bask in the fun parts of your day, and take some time to think about how you might adjust your approach or build on the benefits that you found. Most important is to keep an open, honest line of communication about what’s working and what’s giving us anxiety about returning to in-person work. I would also encourage each of us to remember that it will take a trial-and-error partnership between our managers and us to figure out what long-term “normal” looks like, and that includes the time to get that laundry done! While it might take us some time to get there, I hope we can take some of the pressure off because just maybe, we will achieve the perfect hybrid work balance that we’ve been dreaming of.