Is Going back to the Office Filling You With Dread?

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Date: Fri Aug 20 Author: Chelliah Nakeeran

When it all started during the first lockdown and we were coming to terms with using the home office, hurriedly converting space and signing up for Zoom accounts in our droves, it didn’t really feel like it was going to be a longer term paradigm shifter.

But here we are, in the summer of 21, facing the real fear of actually working back in offices after we’ve become so accustomed to working at home, and on many levels, finding we quite enjoy it.

With freedoms finally granted back this month, it really is making many of us nervous about something that we wouldn’t have given a second thought about only eighteen months ago – stepping into an office.

For others, the home office will reign supreme for the foreseeable, as bosses have across many sectors have abandoned the centralised head office model, preferring their workforce to maintain a flexible working norm.

So is this fear and trepidation of returning to the office real, or will it dissolve away by lunchtime on our first day back?

Alison, a London law firm PA, who has been working at home since the second lockdown, told us that she feels anxious about returning to the office, but grateful that it won’t be a five day a week return, as the boss is moving to more flexible working.

Alison told us, “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling a little nervous about coming back to the office, as I really have found home working much easier as it works around the family and the lack of a commute has been one thing I’ve certainly not missed whilst home working. But that said, I have missed the busy environment and having work colleagues around which I think does help keep up morale”.

Alison is far from being alone in her perceptions, as a report from the British Psychological Society gives guidance and advice on Covid related anxiety and stress in the workplace.

The guidance, issued late last year, stated that on returning to the office ‘Responses will be influenced by a wide range of risk factors including vulnerabilities within the family, change in job roles, threat of redundancy, skill shortages, social networks, and current and previous experience of loss, bereavement, and illness. Feelings are likely to be significantly affected by factors that increase the risks and challenges posed by Covid-19 (e.g. being from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic [BAME] background).’

Some notable larger businesses, including HSBC and Unilever have stated that they are never returning full time to the office. but for many smaller to mid-size businesses, the attitudes and commitments to flexible working models are far less clear.

It’s also not to say that everyone likes and enjoys the home office, ‘Zoom Fatigue’ has proven to be a very real phenomenon and those extended meetings of having our own HD image relentlessly mirroring back at us is not for everyone! Read this interesting article on a study on Zoom Fatigue from Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL), giving valuable insights and solutions.

Home working for many has meant the ‘greying’ of lines of when we are ‘on duty’, so now the office doesn’t ever close and we are not booted out by the cleaners at 6.30pm, means on average, we’re putting in far more hours, yet for the same pay rate.

Jason, a Client Account Manager told us, “I really don’t have a structure in the same way I did before working from home. It’s ok and I manage it but I can be still on meetings late into the evening and lunch times have pretty much gone by the wayside most days.”

Recent research by Ezra, a leading provider of digital coaching, found that Working from Home has Increased UK Working Hours by 22%.

So in these times of immense change across the working landscape, there appears to be factors that act as pros and cons for either side of the equation.

Given that many bosses have relented over the last few months and accepted that many of their employees don’t want the rigid work patterns, attendance and commuting of pre 2020, flexible office working has emerged as a potential ‘halfway house’ solution.

Flexible working comes in the form of workspaces that can be hired flexibly, and in some cases, for as little as an hour upwards on a pay-as-you-go basis.

One of the major benefits of these flexible workspaces is that they offer the employee or small business owner a place to work, closer to where they live, so negating the long and mind-numbing daily commute.

Often with much more reliable connectivity than the home office, these workspaces enable communications without the Wi-Fi limitations of many home offices and with far fewer home distractions, think endless Amazon Prime deliveries and neighbour DIY projects!

Although not really getting around Zoom Fatigue issues, the often collaborative spaces do enable more face-to-face contact with real humans which to some degree at least balances out all the screen time with conversations readily available in the breakout areas.

CEO of BluDesks, a leading online workspace booking platform comments, “What we’re finding now, is that although home workers have been reticent to try venturing out of their four walls, they have reported back having an amazing experience at our workspaces, even if they only booked for an hour or two.

So I guess it’s just about plucking up the courage again to get back out there, because there really is a warm welcome for you at our centres if you do make the effort, and many are close to where you live, meaning very little travel time.”

Back to the British Psychological Society report, it states that, ‘Each employee will have their own specific concerns regarding their work or personal experience. Feeling worried, concerned or anxious is understandable in a situation that is changing and uncertain. These are common responses and show increased vigilance which helps protect us from harm.’

It will no doubt take all of us time to adapt to a gradual return to more traditional ways of working, albeit in truth, things are never going to be exactly the same as before.

The most important thing is to seek out a way of future working that suits you and your own personal expectations and needs.

Do your own research and look for all the help that’s out there to support you, the way forward is not clear for any of us, so your unease is definitely fully justified and not something you should ignore.

Mind have some great resources if you are needing support.

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