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Why and how we can go back to the office​​​​​​​ happily

Gina London



We are going to move to face-to-face from screen-to-screen

We are going to move to face-to-face from screen-to-screen

We are going to move to face-to-face from screen-to-screen

“How can I help you?” the young woman asked as I walked into the clothing store this past week.

While I’m not a big fan of “can I?” over “may I?”, I am a big fan of this particular American retail chain, White House Black Market. Headquartered in Florida, the company specialises in classic, fashion-forward pieces that appear upscale without a lofty price tag attached. Past summers, when I’ve visited my family here in Indiana, I’ve made a point to visit their store in Hamilton Town Centre to supplement my business-attire wardrobe.And now, as I have acquired two different client bookings to lead in-person training sessions in September (one in Berlin, and one closer to home in Shannon), I am delighted to be back in the market for a new outfit.

“I’m looking for something professional,” I replied, imagining the assortment of sharp, tailored styles I was about to have the pleasure of reviewing and trying on.

But the woman pointed me to a single, lonely rack. A couple of extra-large sized black blazers hung next to one forlorn pair of black pants, otherwise known as trousers.

“Not much selection,” I remarked, stating the obvious. “I guess since it’s August, you’re in seasonal transition?”

“No,” the clerk corrected, “people have been rushing in to buy new work-clothes. We’re all shopped out. Everyone’s going back to the office.”

Ah, yes, here the United States, despite the lower-than-predicted uptake of vaccinations and the recent surge in cases due to the delta variant, a new CNBC survey of human resource executives from large firms shows that while not everyone is heading back right away, the new concerns are not completely upending plans to return. Nearly 40pc of CNBC’s Workforce Executive Council say they are not asking employees to come back before September or October and will be deploying hybrid models. Still others are pushing re-opening plans way back. Delivery giant Amazon, for instance, announced it won’t require corporate staff to come back until January 2022.

Re-openings come with new policies. Some US-based companies, including Apple, Alphabet and Uber have announced vaccine mandates. For example, my former employer, CNN, fired three people this past week for coming into the office unvaccinated.

“We have a zero tolerance on this,” CEO Jeff Zucker was quoted as saying in a memo.

However, seventy-five percent of the HR officers surveyed said their companies are not yet requiring proof of vaccination.

How is it where you are? Is there a definite date for return to work at your place of employment? Are you shopping for new back-to-work clothing? Whenever you do return, here are some ideas to consider:

1) Run a return-to-work experiment

Duke University behavioural economics and psychology professor Dan Ariely says no matter the timing, employers may want to roll out any back-to-work scheme on a trial basis.

After the many months of home-officing, health concerns and overall uncertainty, people are emotionally exhausted and simply not able to make definitive decisions about going back to work. Dan urges employers to be compassionate.

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“When people are stressed, anxious and worried, this is not the time to expect people to be reflective and understand their own motives in the best possible way,” he explained.

2) Survey, survey, and survey

The electric sign illuminating the grounds in front of my old high school building Monroe Central, when I returned to visit it last week, brightly proclaimed, “Engage. Empower. Excel.”

I like that sentiment a lot. The first two words, I believe, are required to produce that outcome of excellence. For school and at work. Use this mindset to seek the input from your employees the same way you would try to engage students. Don’t just install policies. Ask for the opinions of the people who do the work for your customers, clients and company every day.

People want to be valued and one important way to demonstrate that is to listen to them.

3) Remember the joy of in-person connections

Dan pointed out that during the past year and a half of lockdown, quarantine and separation, people have become so accustomed to isolation, many have forgotten the value of social interaction.

Yet, research has long demonstrated that at the root of us all, we long to interact – in-person. We need to see people again. Face to face, not just screen to screen. Last weekend, daughter Lulu and I went boating with my friend Leah at the local lake. People tethered a dozen or so pontoon boats together in the water creating a giant, amoebic, floating party barge. One family grilled hotdogs and passed them around to everyone. It was a joyful occasion we hadn’t experienced in years.

Here in Indiana, the children are already back-to-school. My friend Leah’s daughter Kyra, is a sophomore in high school. “The halls are packed with students,” she said. “It’s great to see everyone again.”

“We are social animals, and this has been taken away from us and we kind of forgot what it is,” Dan said. “But I think when people go back to work, we will remember.”

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