The office reunion
04
Feb

The much-awaited office reunion and the insights it has revealed

My much-awaited office reunion… and the insights it has revealed

It’s February 2021, and I reunited with a long-lost friend today. We hadn’t met in a while — almost a year to be precise. So today, I was thrilled to reconnect with this old friend — the office.

The reason this feels so much like a reunion is not surprising. I had always seen the office as a physical workspace, but it was only when I was forced to stay away from it for so long did I realise that it meant so much more to me. The pandemic has prompted me (and perhaps most of us) to re-evaluate a few aspects of work and develop new perspectives on things that we had taken for granted before.

Of course, working from home had its perks — it was nice to be able to work in track pants, be more available for my family and not have to worry about the commute for a change. But it definitely had its downsides, which started becoming more obvious after the first few weeks. The barriers between work and home life collapsed pretty quickly. You could no longer just power down your laptop and leave to signal the end of a workday — so you ended up working longer hours. This was true for everyone, which meant that people felt confident reaching out to one another round the clock — so work-life balance took a hit. But for me, the worst fallout was the glaring lack of those ad-hoc conversations with colleagues. Sure, my day was packed with back-to-back video calls, and we all had our fun trying out different Zoom backgrounds. But once the novelty wore off, people went back to screen names, and these calls didn’t have that same vibe or energy as an impromptu face-to-face chat. After all, scheduled calls tend to be just that — scheduled, planned and time-bound.

Technology did, of course, emerge as the clear champion as it helped us transition to remote working almost overnight and enabled us to maintain business continuity. But what we missed out are the more human aspects of work — the inspiration, the daily interactions, the team culture and that feeling of working together to achieve something bigger than ourselves. Here are a few things that made me extra happy to reunite with the office at long last.

The choice of spaces

When we started working from home, one of the first things I did was to upgrade my home office setup. But comfortable though it was, sitting at the same spot for hours every day got monotonous over the weeks. Offices today are designed for activity-based workstyles — and the creative inspiration that comes from the constant change in work environment is just one of the intangible advantages that offices provide. When I returned to my workplace, it was so nice to be able to collaborate with my colleagues in a meeting room specifically designed for the purpose, settle down in a huddle space for some focussed work on my own, and then head to the pantry when I needed to take a break.

Technology and other creature comforts

When you work from home, you don’t just fulfil your own job role — you also end up wearing several other hats. You are the operations expert in sole charge of when the Wi-Fi in your home goes down. You are the IT guru who needs to figure out the reason for any unexpected system glitches. You are the barista when you want a cup of coffee or need a quick snack.

It was such a relief to get back to the office and shed some of these extra roles. It almost felt surreal to sink into a sofa and just focus on my work alone. The ability to call on someone to help me with technical snags freed up a whole lot of time and mind-space, which I could then redirect to my work.

The psychological effect

Most of us noticed how working from home made it so difficult to have a marked end to the workday — but I hadn’t quite realised how it impacted the beginning of it as well. The act of following a set morning routine, getting ready and then actually coming to the office immediately put me in a more alert, productive and work-oriented frame of mind. As a result, the minute I sat down at my desk, I was ready to tackle the day.

The other difference I noticed was how psychologically comforting it was to have so many familiar faces around, even if I wasn’t interacting with every person at any given moment. It really reiterated the knowledge that every little thing I do impacts the others in the room — and vice versa. That feeling of belonging to a social group larger than my immediate family was yet another thing that I hadn’t realised I was missing.

The social spark

Speaking of the interactions I did end up having — it was so wonderful to be able to have unplanned, impromptu conversations with my colleagues (no agendas, no MOMs!). Of course, this was great at a personal level. Some of my colleagues had gone through major milestones over the past year and I enjoyed having the chance to finally catch up with them properly. But these interactions ended up being great on the work front as well. The inclusive group collaborations and spontaneous brainstorming led to some fantastic new ideas that may not have come up in a Zoom call, and prompted me to explore some avenues that I had not thought of before.

While most of us had made it a point to stay connected to close colleagues, we had unwittingly missed out on having regular interactions with co-workers who are not a part of our immediate teams. This again, was not very surprising. We were all caught up in navigating the New Normal and most of us were suffering from Zoom fatigue — so it just wouldn’t have made sense to schedule yet another call simply to say hello. Fortunately, my office reunion ended up reuniting me with these co-workers as well. Also importantly, I finally had a chance to meet the new people who had joined the team over the last year. It felt great to welcome them to the company in person, and get to know them better. This day I spent sharing experiences, inside jokes, laughter or even just eye contact, really brought home the fact that these are the very things that build company culture over time.

How will my relationship with the office change after this reunion? Only time will tell, but already I am thrilled to be back in control of where and how I work. I am also excited to see how the physical workplace changes over the coming days in response to the lessons learned during the pandemic. The tech setup, for one, has already started becoming a lot more seamless, and I foresee a greater potential in this area as people start splitting their time between the home and the office.

I also notice much greater focus on comfort and wellbeing, which I am certain will only get more nuanced in future. Collaboration and the social work culture are set to evolve too. These changes will not just be brought about by workplace experts alone — they will be the result of a joint effort by employees like me, who appreciate and value a great workplace.

While I enjoyed working from home (and I hope to continue to do so), I look forward to coming to the office multiple times a week to take advantage of the many intangible benefits it provides. In fact, my resolution for 2021 is to never take the office for granted again! 

How is your reunion with the office going? Over the last month, we've talked to hundreds of professionals like you across the world to better understand the role of the workplace in our post-pandemic future. We'll be sharing our insights into this new workplace paradigm soon — stay tuned!

 

Fiza Hasan Malhotra, Global Marketing Director, Space Matrix

With more than 20 years of experience in Marketing and Branding, our Global Marketing Director, Fiza Hasan Malhotra, believes in the power of company culture to spark talent, power growth and build brands. As a member of Space Matrix's Executive Committee, Fiza is deeply interested in the evolution of the workplace in response to global and regional socio-economic trends.