As the mobile coffee cart in the office building foyer splutters back to life again, the word is out – the workers are coming back.  Or are they?

Anxiety may be rising for some still in woolly onesies slumped in front of a warmed up computer dreading the new order.  It’s time.  Time to review the WFH policy.

Working from home has been a much, welcomed condition for approximately the last 2 years.  Spare bedrooms have been converted to office space, wardrobe doors have become notice boards and office attire got shoved to the back of the closet.

The drudgery of public transport, crowded bike lanes and traffic were soon forgotten when work flexibility became a standard during the peak of the dreaded virus.  But now it looks like the flexibility tide may have turned and reports of return to office orders are becoming more common.

Critics of remote work included a JPMorgan Chase chief executive arguing that it’s no substitute for the spontaneous idea generation that results from bumping into colleagues at the coffee machine.  Agreed.  But the offer of free coffee with two heaped teaspoons of ideas won’t necessarily bring everyone back with a smile.   With the rising cost of living, childcare costs and caring responsibilities the WFH model just seemed to suit.

But we’re not all the same.  For some, the novelty of working at home presented a less than desirable effect of not being able to draw a line between work and home life.  Office work times and physical boundaries were not clear and work creep grew into homework times, meals and family dramas.  There was no home to go to because you were already there and when you got to the weekend it looked like you were still in the office.

But for the majority, the suitability that working from home brings will present resistance when the return to barracks order is issued.  So, what if they don’t want to come back?  HR departments will be saddled with the hesitancy issue and will be again trying to balance company needs and flexible working options.

Understanding the reasons for hesitancy will be the key – what are the real issues at stake here?    Undeclared conflict, under utilization, lack of instructions or training or even sometimes, home is just a difficult piece of hell right now that needs constant attention.  

A healthy dose of compassion and regular communication will assist in supporting the return to office reluctance.  A staggered timeframe could assist with some coming back sooner than others, a transition period or shorter days to accommodate the now, much embedded routine of school pick up and drops offs.

Either way, the workplace needs you – but just leave the onesies at home.

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