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The New Normal Network: navigating office life post-COVID

11 Jan 2022 12 MIN READ

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The New Normal Network: navigating office life post-COVID

It's undeniable that the way we work is undergoing a major reshuffle. At TravelPerk, we have tried to be transparent about our changes and the constant evolution it's taking to get us there! With that in mind, we wanted to create a platform to share the pain points and swap ideas with other business leaders to support each other through these novel waters. 

Our New Normal Network is an informal round table where we can exchange thoughts and talk about the challenges of working life in the COVID-19 universe. Whether you have a clearly defined plan or are feeling completely lost, we can come together to brainstorm solutions and share the tips and tricks we have learned along the way. 

In this edition, we discussed what office life looks like in the new normal and how we are all navigating the world of hybrid or remote working. Our fantastic panel included Elyse Hamilton, HR Project Manager (Ways of Working) at Aesop, Marta Kutt, Business Operations Principal at Qatalog, Rob Blair, Senior Workplace Manager, Sprinklr, Kerttu Leetus, Regional Office Manager at Bolt, and our very own Felicia Norman-Williams, Enterprise Account Manager at TravelPerk. 

5 key takeaways for navigating post-pandemic office life

Everyone is still working out what hybrid means for them

virtual coffee meeting

It's undeniable that we are walking through new territory. Many of us are still in a haze from the past two years, and trying to keep up with the Joneses is the last thing anyone needs! Acknowledging that every team, let alone business, will have different requirements for hybrid working can go a long way to cutting ourselves the slack we all deserve. 

Coming together as different organizations can help us brainstorm and share solutions for this new way of working. But don't be afraid to be honest. Transparency is the best way to get the answers you need. 

It's a constant evolution. I don't think anyone can claim they've got it nailed down, but we have an iteration, and I'm sure that that will constantly evolve over the next few months.

Rob Blair, Senior Workplace Manager, Sprinklr.

The benefits of candor also apply back in the office. Leadership who speak frankly with teams and empower them to become part of the conversation could shape better remote work policies which work for everyone. 

One thing is clear. While we all figure out what hybrid working will mean for us, management must lead from the top. It's no good setting policies asking teams to hot desk two times a week when the head honchos come in day in day out. Finding a solution that works for the entire business needs input from workers at every level and the commitment of high-tier executives.  

We all have different needs

In work, as in life, we all vary in what we need to succeed. As an organization, an element of flexibility will be crucial as it's far too easy for managers to assume what their teams want regarding hybrid or remote working. 

For example, we can easily presume all parents want to work from home. For many moms and dads, this isn't the case. Coming into the office offers dedicated time away from distractions to focus on their workload and get stuff done. Instead of full or part-time remote working, they might prefer some flexibility around their hours so they can drop or pick up kids from school and finish up their day once their children are in bed. 

Despite being digitally savvy, younger workers may also prefer to come into the office as work friends form a large part of their social circles. The same applies to new hires who have relocated to join your team. These employees might be relying on heading into the office to make a few friends and start feeling settled in their new city. 

We need to teach managers and leaders in business to have better conversations with their teams about what works best for them.

 Elyse Hamilton, HR Project Manager (Ways of Working), Aesop.

Then there are also the practicalities. For example, your office location will impact workers' enthusiasm for hybrid working. If their commute is a long, arduous trip on public transport, employees might be more excited to work from home, whereas those with a short walk to the office might resent not being able to pop in.  

Then there may be other considerations like the setup employees have access to at home. While some team members might have larger homes with space for a separate office where they can focus and enjoy their surroundings, it's typically different for younger colleagues. They may be sharing a house with several roommates, so working from home might resemble long days cramped in their bedrooms or fighting over who gets to work from the kitchen table! 

home office stylish

At their root, some roles can quickly adapt to being in a home office, while others are impractical or impossible to operate remotely. Equipment can play a prominent role in this decision. Developers, for example, require far more complicated kits for their work, often needing more powerful computers and extra screens to handle complex coding tasks. 

Without a designated desk when they come into the office, they can waste vast amounts of time finding everything they need. Employees in these roles might prefer to work from home to avoid the hassle of hot-desking and to focus without interruption.  

Other admin-heavy positions such as finance teams might also want to opt to work from home to minimize unwanted distractions. On the other hand, marketing or sales teams might like the buzz of the office because their tasks thrive on the energy that comes from being in the same room as their teammates. The challenge comes from where to establish parameters and where to allow freedom for employees to choose how they work best. 

For some businesses making it mandatory to attend team meetings in person could be the place to start. Coming together face-to-face to communicate key concepts can help teams reconnect as they can see colleagues' mannerisms and body language without being hindered by a screen. For other organizations hosting regular social events can be the way they help new starters find their feet and bring in departments that usually work from home. 

Ultimately there isn't a one size fits all solution to hybrid or remote working, and you can't please everyone. Working from home doesn't suit every employee, and forcing workers into a less flexible system could spell disaster. The isolation and frustrations some people experience working outside the office can seriously impact their mental and physical well-being, so any remote work policy should be more about setting parameters and expectations than a long list of rules. 

It is worth keeping in mind that many employees will not be ready to return to a shared office for mental and physical health reasons. It's important while we continue to combat COVID-19 that we remain understanding and empathetic to individual situations and come up with virtual solutions to keep home workers in contact. 

Coordinating in-office days can be a challenge!

working together with laptops

During the pandemic, many organizations were forced to rethink the future of their office spaces. With leases up, it made sense to scale back and think about hot-desking or other methods of sharing a work environment when we could come back together. 

But organizing a successful shared office space has proven a challenge! Some days the office is like a desert, and others it's jam-packed with employees trying to nab a free desk. That's before we even mention the perils of securing a meeting room!

No one missed the days of jostling for space even before our paired down post-COVID edition of the office. One route that has been working for some is to set up a registration system where employees can book a desk or a meeting space in advance online. This route allows office managers to keep track of numbers and avoid overcrowding ahead of time. 

Another technique is to mandate that each department has one designated in-office day. For example, remote work policies might require Marketing to come in on Tuesday and Sales teams on Wednesdays. If other colleagues want to work from the office outside of their set day, they are welcome to, but they must reserve a desk. This approach sets a new challenge for office managers to make sure everyone has an opportunity to come in and that the same suspects aren't hogging all the desks each week! 

The days of the head office aren't dead

As we entered lockdowns, there was much talk of the demise of the head office. From the confines of their living rooms, people imagined a future where they could escape the major cities in search of a new life in the countryside. The prospect of remote working and satellite offices promised to replace the one central HQ and provide the new life many of us were dreaming of. 

Offices will always be huge in terms of their importance to a company, we just need to rethink what their purpose is.

Rob Blair, Senior Workplace Manager, Sprinklr.

As employees put their city apartments on the market and businesses revaluated their leases, new ideas for the workspace of the future began emerging. But the vision of several satellite offices soon came crashing down with the simple reality that it's harder to coordinate hundreds of remote workers than pinpoint a central location for your organization. Fast forward 18 months, and the picture looks very different. While a fully remote working model might suit certain businesses or job roles, most workers have missed the office's interaction. 

But to keep the best of both worlds, businesses have had to switch things up. Many organizations loved the freedom to hire top talent without such strict restrictions on location, but this would need some adaptions as governments lifted lockdown regulations. Rather than establishing expensive satellite spaces, many companies have opted to offer workers coworking memberships instead. 

office meeting space

With these subscriptions, employees benefit from some human interaction, lessening the loneliness and isolation that can lead to burnout while still visiting company headquarters for social events and essential meetings. 

The office is a tool, a resource for people to use. That's the shifting mentality that we're seeing in this trend of workplaces becoming a destination rather than something that's always there. With that, there's going to be an element of enticing people to come.

Rob Blair, Senior Workplace Manager, Sprinklr.

As we have seen already, some teams will have more of a preference for working in house than others. According to our panel, the new normal could see some employees shift to seeing the office as a place to receive key business updates and celebrate team wins.

Organizations are also adjusting to the idea that in-office days are not necessarily productive for heavy admin roles. A new approach needs to be taken to make the most of our time together as teams. The new workplace will be about creating opportunities to bond and enjoy the social aspect of being part of a team so employees can return home refreshed and reenergized towards company goals. 

Creating awareness that days in the office are best spent on creative or communal tasks can help employees reconnect and break out of feelings of isolation. Managers can also encourage workers to embrace their more social side with their colleagues by organizing team breakfasts, lunches, or after-work drinks so workers can catch up and chew the fat in person. 

The ways we get together are changing

in person and virtual together

Corporate retreats used to be reserved for high-flying sales teams or digital nomads working for trendy global start-ups. As restrictions lift and the days of full-time office work rescind into the shadows, companies are shaking up how they bring their employees together for crucial team building. 

In the future, we may see more organizations opting for annual or even quarterly offsites to gather workers to deliver critical updates and schedule in time for socializing as a team. Choosing an exciting destination and weaving in meetings with more informal opportunities to chat and toast to your success could be a vital method of bonding staff who are spread out geographically or who rarely cross paths on their in-office days.   

However, extensive measures will still need to be taken for the foreseeable future to meet government regulations and put employee safety first. Mandatory testing and asking staff to limit their interactions in the run-up to offsite events are just some of the methods the panel has been using to minimize the risk of team meet-ups.

When organizing events for different teams we always communicate its totally voluntary. We also pay attention to any restrictions imposed in different countries and we try to use preventative measures to make everyone feel safe.

Kerttu Leetus, Regional Office Manager, Bolt.

It's vital to reiterate that some employees won't be ready to come back. We aren't out of the woods just yet, so it's crucial that we continue to respect people's boundaries as an organization and as colleagues. Plus, if the pandemic has taught us anything, it's how to problem solve! Sending little swag bags and finding ways to include team members virtually can mean no one gets left behind.

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