How is your company’s Return to Office (RTO) going? I heard the funniest/saddest thing from someone who attended one of our webinars recently. She was bemoaning the fact that she didn’t want to go back to the office very often because of her co-workers. In fact, her exact words were, “It’s like people were raised by wolves. They’ve forgotten all their office etiquette. They talk too loud, they interrupt whenever they want. They’ve gone feral.”
When I finally stopped laughing (then apologizing for laughing at her pain), I realized that there were two reasons this has happened. The first reason is simple and easy to address. The second is more important.
I like it my way.
The primary reason this happened is that for the better part of two years, people got used to doing things their own way. In the privacy of their home offices or Starbucks, they can speak as loud as they want, dress how they want (at least from the belly button up for webcam purposes), leave their stinky lunch leftovers in the sink, and other charming behavior.
Some of the behavior, especially the interrupting and constant chatter, is a result of so much social isolation. People have been deprived of interaction with their co-workers, often with people they’ve developed long-standing relationships with. Their desire for social connection outweighs the need to let Carol get that spreadsheet done.
Feral is an unkind word, but it does raise the point that much of the etiquette and behavior we expect and consider “normal office behavior” is learned. When you don’t engage in the conditioned behavior for a while, natural impulses and new (often considered “bad”) habits take over.
Why are you returning to the office?
This brings us to the second reason this is going on. People are coming back to the office for the wrong reasons. If the goal is to be able to work uninterrupted and in solitude, sitting in an enclosed space with multiple other people is the wrong way to go about it.
Many organizations have brought people back to the office for the wrong reasons, and seem surprised that it’s not immediately successful. It’s time to analyze why people are expected to return, and what’s supposed to happen when they get there.
- The purpose of an office is for people to interact. Don’t be surprised when they do.
- You will likely have to go into the office or engage in activities that don’t fit your work style, with people you’d rather not deal with. Suck it up.
- If people are coming into the office, don’t expect quiet task completion. This is when people should be engaging in discussion, problem solving, meetings (that add value) and working with others throughout the organization.
- Scheduling work and deciding when and why people need to return to the office has to be intentional. Saying, “You can come in two days a week,” but not stipulating it should be the same days as the rest of that project team so you can put your heads together only aggravates the challenges of remote and hybrid work.
- The return to office needs to balance the needs of both the employees and the business, and the main consideration is to the business. This doesn’t mean that whatever the manager prefers automatically happens. It means that when you look at the policies and processes that will inform your return to office and how you move forward, it is for valid reasons.
- “Because we said so,” is not a valid reason.
Have your co-workers gone feral?
It will take time to re-establish some of the norms that made commuting and working together possible. More likely you need to examine when it makes sense to gather and when people can be more effective working remotely.
Don’t guess. It’s time to have real conversations with your team about what the new workplace should look like to help everyone succeed.
Kevin Eikenberry and I held a webinar last week where we answered some of the most common questions we’re getting about returning to the office. If you missed it, you can catch it here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. Wayne and Kevin’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammate, offers a roadmap for success not just for leaders, but for everyone making the transition to working remotely.