When the COVID-19 pandemic first entered public awareness, many people expected it to blow over within weeks. They’d work from home for a spell, enjoy the change of pace, then get back into their offices soon. That isn’t what happened, obviously. The virus continued to spread at a worrying pace, and the main uncertainty since then has been what level of lockdown restrictions it’s necessary to maintain in any given area.
Many months down the line, and with 2021 just over the horizon, people are much more inclined to err on the side of negativity. We still don’t know when life will be able to return to something approaching normalcy. What we do know, though, is that effective vaccines are in mass production, and there’s a chance that the next 12 months will deliver major results.
Even if the vaccines don’t have the impact we’re hoping for, life will at least get closer to what it used to be. This is due to a greater awareness of how to deal with the health and safety issues posed by various gatherings. It’s already possible, for instance, for professionals to get back to using offices: they just need to maintain distance and stagger working hours.
If you’re expecting to get back into office working in the new year, though, you should do more than just conform to new expectations concerning COVID-19. You should also learn from your time working remotely. The old office model was hardly perfect, and this is the perfect chance to update it. Here are five lessons you absolutely need to remember:
1. Office spending is often excessive
Some companies viewed their offices as showrooms to some extent, kitting them out with high-end equipment to make their brands look more impressive. When you regularly have clients (and prospective clients) visit, you can see value in having top-of-the-line hardware everywhere to demonstrate your spending power.
In today’s world, though, the role of the office has changed. What matters is performance, not appearance, and you can expect most meetings to occur via video conferencing. Due to this, you should seek to cut down your office spending. Here are some tips for doing that:
Forget the fancy furniture
Companies like Google don’t invest heavily in sofas and pool tables because they want their employees to be happy. They do it because they don’t want them to leave their offices — but you shouldn’t treat office space that way. Your office should be about getting things done. Let people leave whenever they want, and save what you would have spent trying to make your office feel like a home.
Buy second-hand devices
You don’t need the latest and greatest laptops to do word processing. You do need great build quality, but you can get that from a refurbished machine (particularly when buying a used MacBook, as Apple’s build quality is legendary). Go second-hand and you’ll save a lot of money in the process.
Use shared office space
Since you shouldn’t be having the entire team in the office at the same time, you don’t need a full-size office. In fact, you shouldn’t bother with a conventional office at all. Instead, you should use shared office space, renting rooms only when you need them. This will avoid wastage.
2. Processes must be documented
It’s still very common for businesses to rely on specific individuals who know how things work, and that’s fine when everyone shares a working space — but not when people are scattered. What happens in the event that someone else needs to share that knowledge? It’s much harder to communicate it via the internet. You also need to factor in the increased likelihood of some members of staff falling ill during this time.
When you get back into the office, carry out a full review of all your key operational processes. What do you have written down in complete instructions? You’ll likely find that many key components of your everyday routine only exist in the heads of your employees. If so, get to work documenting them. It’s a vital safeguard for the future of your company.
3. Autonomy is generally a great thing
Many business owners moved to the remote-working model with extreme reluctance, largely because they were worried about how it would impact productivity. They suspected that their employees would become apathetic and idle if not kept in line through direct oversight. This is why remote working had been so slow to see widespread adoption, even years after technology matured enough for it to be viable.
Once they’d adapted to the change, though, they came to understand their mistake. Where it reduced productivity, the impact was minimal — and in many cases it boosted it. This is because people were given more freedom to decide how and when they worked and didn’t need to worry about being watched. Accordingly, when you go back into the office, you should avoid returning to the old way of doing things. Employees should retain their autonomy, regardless of where they are.
Now, this doesn’t mean having unlimited autonomy. Many employees will still need to be monitored, task assignment must continue in the usual vein, and performance (particularly concerning finances) must be tracked. It’s about making it clear what needs to be done and what the expectations are: anything beyond that shouldn’t overly concern the managerial staff.
4. Things can change very quickly
No one expected what happened earlier this year. One minute they thought things would be fine, and the next they were scrambling to comply with government orders to stay at home whenever possible. Accordingly, a key lesson to learn is that things can change very quickly, and you need to stay on your toes at all times.
Who knows when another full lockdown might be required? What if there’s another outbreak down the line and we need to repeat this process? This isn’t a time to proceed carelessly. The more adaptable you can keep your business, the better. This means minimizing long-term commitments (to office spaces or to equipment-rental services, for instance), staying apprised of the latest events throughout the world of business, and fully embracing flexible working.
5. Work/life balance is vital for morale
When people started working from home, they found that they had a lot more free time to use. This is partially due to the widespread lockdowns, but the lack of commuting also had a lot to do with it. At the same time, though, many started to struggle with overwork. How can that happen? Well, it’s simple. Their boundaries between the professional and the personal had collapsed.
Working set hours in an office gives you a clear cut-off point for being done with work. If you work from 9 to 5, then you’re done when you get to 5, regardless of how your day has gone. But when you ostensibly work from 9 to 5 at home, you can easily find yourself working until 6 because you’re concerned that you haven’t achieved enough.
When you’re back in the office, you need to learn from the good and bad of remote working. You should get back to using set cut-off points for work, getting away when you’re done — but you should also seek to minimize commuting time by ensuring that you only go to the office when it’s really necessary. And if you can switch up the hours, that’s even better.
Approach returning to the office carefully
Wrapping up, you can definitely benefit from getting back to office life, but only if you learn these key lessons from the time you’ve spent working remotely. In all likelihood, the future standard will involve working remotely some of the time and working from shared office space when needed. Do your best to get ready for that.