Shifting – Four points to consider when returning to the office

The national telework recommendation was removed in Finland a month ago. As employees increasingly return to their employers’ premises, work routines and work atmosphere are also renewed.

Yle asked the professor Minna Huotilainen A researcher in cognition and learning at the University of Helsinki, which could be the keys to a successful return to the office.

1. The Community must be rebuilt

During teleworking, the interaction between colleagues has been strongly work-based and task-oriented. Coffee break discussions and joint lunch breaks may have been absent for a year and a half. This has had an effect.

"Teleworking creates [a sense of] isolation. I think people have missed each other," Huotilainen points out.

He says that when returning to full-time or part-time work in shared spaces, it is important to consider different ways to truly bring people together into work communities.

On the other hand, there are likely to be new employees who have not worked face-to-face with their colleagues at all. These new employees may not feel part of the work community, and in these changed circumstances, previous methods of integrating new entrants may not be effective.

"One example of a well-functioning system could be a workplace breakfast that everyone is expected to attend," Huotilainen suggests.

The days before the coronavirus pandemic and the prevalence of teleworking rarely included only work tasks without lighter co-operation between co-workers. Physical presence makes human interaction much richer than it can be online.

"Just the way a coworker walks into a conference room, presses his laptop on the desk, and sits down tells a lot about the mood he’s in today," points out Huotilainen.

The office always has time to change a word or two before the appointment. It allows for a little socializing, asking how someone can, discussing things that aren’t directly related to work. Such interaction is important to humans.

"This shows mutual acceptance that I am interested in you and I am your co-worker. To prevent this from happening, it comes at a price," Huotilainen explains.

2. Work practices need development

According to Huotilainen, teleworking makes it possible to do work, but building a work community and further developing things have been left out because it has not been natural to talk about work casually.

She says jobs need people working together to develop skills as partners and mentors.

"Concrete work tasks are a matter of organization, but connecting the work community is much more challenging," he emphasizes.

Huotilainen believes that many work communities want to see more days dedicated to development as everyone comes to discuss the future and make plans.

There have also been a lot of meeting excesses and employees need better organized meetings.

"People have become much more demanding during this time. We think more about our own use of time and that’s a good thing," Huotilainen says.

3. Set rules for interrupts

Even well before the onset of the coronavirus and the widespread transition to telecommuting, it was found that interruptions slow down work and increase the likelihood of errors.

"If you are now used to working in silence for a year and a half and return to the open office, the noise may feel much louder than before you started working remotely," he points out.

While working on site, most people have learned to ask questions about instant messaging, email, video conferencing, or traditional phone calls. The answer came when the other party had time to respond.

"I think workers are more demanding in terms of a peaceful environment after gaining experience of what uninterrupted work is like," he says.

Again, as you work closer, it’s worth thinking more carefully about when and how others will be interrupted.

Huotilainen points out that people may not want to be disturbed, but they do want answers. Every work community needs to consider which channels of communication are now most appropriate where questions can be answered when the time is right.

On the other hand, returning to the employer’s premises can reduce interruptions for those who have had many family members while working from home.

4. Agree on the mix

As a new phenomenon, there may also be widespread opposition in many workplaces to returning to the office because certain jobs have been done more successfully at home. One answer that employers turn to is a hybrid work plan.

"It has long been questioned which space is best suited for any given task. Now I think we have reason to answer this," says Huotilainen, a researcher in cognition and learning.

Some employees do more work at home, some in the office. According to Huotilainen, it is important to consider when it is really necessary to be present at work and which meetings are worth attending.

"There may be new ways to organize joint telecommuting days and office days. Could one team be at work on Mondays and another on Tuesdays?" Huotilainen suggests.

He also suggests that while working on site again, the work day could be divided into two four-hour periods, with a few hours of outdoor activities or other relaxation in between.

"In my opinion, the lessons learned from teleworking are solid for the development of work when they are taken into account and used in working life," Huotilainen sums up.

Source: The Nordic Page


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