The dreadful return

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One year ago, I predicted that most companies would move towards a hybrid model of 70% of work from home and the rest from the office. At the time, I thought that 70% would be the best deal the average company could ever get from its collaborators, but today, I think that returning several days a month is actually in the interest of most employees.

During the first six months of lockdown, I was glad to have time to work on my personal goals. I’ve written more, read more and took more online courses than ever before. However, with no immediate plan to apply my recent learnings anytime soon, education became less of a priority over time.

One year on from the first lockdown and I started to feel unease with the daily routine. I had visited most places around my area, I went to the gym fairly regularly and even had a new job that excited me, but some days didn’t feel quite right. Recently, I’ve found myself on low morale at the end of a workday, especially when I had no one at home to talk. These days, I distinctly remember wondering, “will it be like this forever”?

Instead of looking forward to the weekend, I’ve noticed that I’ve started looking forward to events that were three months away. Days began to pass by faster than I expected and each passing week seemed to blend with the previous one, forming an apparent “unmemorable” month which further decreased my morale.

The common WFH coach suggests dressing for work even if you work from home and going for a walk after lunch. The problem is that I didn’t necessarily need fresh air or wear a nice ironed shirt. I needed physical collaboration with the people I work with, but that need clashed with the long term goal of working full remote.

So it was with pleasant surprise to see that once I returned to the office for a whole week, my days started to seem longer. I’ve had so many insignificant, yet different and unexpected, things happening each day that it felt that life in London was back at last.

More interesting than that, I paid attention to how new joiners in the company started to feel more confident after mundane events like going for a walk, grabbing lunch or going to the pub with their colleagues. Very few digital interactions can replicate the sense of community that human contact offers, like shaking hands in the morning or patting someone on the back. More importantly, if you just joined a new company, social events will allow you to interact and network with colleagues across the business that scheduled online meetings struggle to recreate.

Don’t take me wrong, I’m only required to be present one week a month, and I am looking forward to being at home these next few weeks. But I learnt that even though I don’t like the costly (and noisy) tube and being less productive than what I could be at home, going one week a month to the office is not something I can do for the company. It is something that I have to do for myself.

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