I hope many of you are reflecting on “returning gently” to the office.  We might want to rush back to “normal”.  However, in my last post, I shared how an unexpected shoulder injury reinforced my need to take small steps to get back to some kind of normal.  This epiphany did not pop up instantly for me.  It required reflection.  So does a return to the office after a challenging event.

Some Transitions Take Much Longer Than We Expect

Sometimes when we go through difficult times, we want to rush back to normal.  When my shoulder was injured, I first thought, “I don’t need to worry about it.  I’ll just take it easy for a while and not lift my arm above ninety degrees where I felt sharp pain from the muscle tear.”  That assumption proved false.

While I avoided favorite sports activities that would cause pain, I didn’t realize how much my day-to-day activities relied on that shoulder.  I had to learn new ways to recover and even endure some pain in therapy to rebuild what I had before.

Now many of us were yanked out of the office over a year ago.  We did not realize all the things we depended on to get our work done each day.  Sometimes just seeing certain people or things in the office would trigger the need to “check in” on something or perform a “quick task”.  We were not given time to think about and choose our best way to work in the new remote space.  It was traumatic for many of us, even those of us accustomed to working remote. Yet, many of us found ways to adjust during the pandemic.

Reflect on Rebuilding Your Normal to Avoid Injury

Shoulder injuries take far longer to heal than you would expect and it impacts many other activities.  If we rush, we could make the injury worse.

Changing how we work should also be done with care.

We face this challenge again if we rush back to the office.  We now have subconsciously become accustomed to working in certain ways remotely, even if they are not effective for all of us.  Some of us just want it to be over.  Our companies want it to be over.  

But we now have a better opportunity to take our time to reflect on what the shift back to work might do to us as well as for us.  Don’t cause further injury by rushing back.  Return gently by leveraging the time to reflect.

You might consider the following questions to reflect on this shift back to the office:

  1. First, track how you spend your time for a couple of days.
  2. Second, ask yourself the following questions:
    • OPENING THE WORKDAY: How do I transition from home to work now as a remote worker and how will I transition to work when I’m going back in an office?
    • PREPARING FOR COLLABORATION: How do I prepare to collaborate with colleagues at work now? (It could be more than a meeting). Do I set a clear goal for the collaboration?  Do I have steps in mind?  How do I make this visible, or do I co-create this with my colleagues?  How will that change when I’m back in the office?
    • IN COLLABORATION: How do we collaborate now remote?  Do we always need a meeting?  Do we need everyone in the collaboration in a meeting?  Or have we figured out how we can leverage working asynchronously through writing out our thoughts for better clarity?  How will this change when we are back together in an office?
    • AFTER COLLABORATION: Do we find we all have ideas and actions to take back to our desks when we collaborate remotely?  Do we know who is responsible for moving forward on different parts of the work?  Do we have a way to track it without having a meeting?  How will this be different when we are back in the office?
    • CLOSING THE WORKDAY: When we work remotely, do we make it clear to colleagues and family members when we have finished our work for the day?  Do we reconnect with others important in our lives whether they are inside or outside our work sphere?  How will this change when we are back in an office?
  3. IMPACT TO YOU: For your answers to the questions above, will any of these transitions back to an office cause you discomfort as you rebuild your path to working in the office?  Is there a chance you will do harm to yourself if you rush this process?
  4. IMPACT TO OTHERS: For your answers to the questions above, will any of these transitions back to the office possibly cause discomfort or harm to others?

These rapid transitions may not only cause harm to those who wish to go back to a collocated office.  A well-known remote company did a rapid transition of it’s own and has lost a third of it’s staff.  You can read some of the details here and here.  I think Cat Swetel had the most insightful response to this in her blog post and her last sentence: “We must imagine, ‘What kind of system would help all people flourish today?’”

Any change to the culture of an organization has an impact.  It requires careful reflection.  Let me know how you are reflecting on this.

Next time, I’ll share one likely impact when people do not have choice in returning to the office.

Photo by Jordan on Unsplash