11/01/2022 • 3 min read

Lessons for Returning to the Workplace

Insightful stories of adaptability, innovation, and best practices

by Kurt Vander Schuur

This article was originally published on LinkedIn and has been adapted for Spark.

No matter what stage you are at in returning to the workplace, you have stories. We’ve all seen the craziest—like the lawyer that couldn’t turn off the cat filter on a court video call. But, we also hear insightful stories that can teach us best practices, how to be adaptable, and about what others are going through. Here are a couple of my favorites.

Getting Your Time Back

Does anyone else have a schedule packed with back-to-back video calls? When no one was at the office, there was hardly time for bathroom breaks. This story is about a really small change but a major aha moment: an organization changed the default calendar setting for meetings from an hour to 50 minutes and 30 minutes to 25. Microsoft applications actually let you do this! It’s such a simple thing. Before this huge influx of video calls, moments between meetings were valuable but that didn’t translate to the digital space. This change could help institutionalize the common phrase during meetings that end early: “giving people back their time.” Culturally, it can signal an appreciation of people’s time.

Sharing Isn’t Always Caring—Or Practical

As we welcome a work from anywhere approach, we have to remember that being remote isn’t always practical. These stories are especially poignant from people just starting their careers. One young designer, who just graduated from college during the pandemic, turned his closet into an office because it's the only place he could get some quiet and focus in a house shared with roommates. Another young woman, who also graduated during the pandemic, said she was trying to work from her parents’ home, but found it was too hard to share Wi-Fi with five other people. For those of you reading this that have many more years since graduation (I see you), what was your first house or apartment like out of college? Fond memories for sure, but now it’s a reality check for those having to make adjustments at different career stages. 

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Individual Outdoor Spaces

With seasonal changes in the north, I’m with all of you who seek out sunshine in the warmer months—and envious of those of you who get to enjoy it all year long. This makes me particularly interested in an observation that, for the first time, we are seeing more one-person outdoor tables and seating when the weather is nice. If you think about it, outdoor settings are usually for groups and gatherings. This shift reflects people moving outside to find safe individual spaces and a growing popularity in outdoor working spaces.

Finding Balance in Hybrid Work

As many companies move back to the office, hybrid models of remote and in-person work are very popular. Another interesting story I heard is about actually giving up space and balancing needs. During an organizational survey, one department decided to switch to a work from home model. But, when the facilities team came back with a plan to take half of their space because another team needed it, the response was “Whoa, you can't have our space.” How would you resolve this? It’s an interesting conversation in terms of wanting the best of both worlds—the flexibility to work from home without giving up the perks of the office.

These can seem so basic, but I encourage you to share these stories—not just about the shift to working from home but how we are doing it. This major change has so many complexities we will learn from as we continually evolve workspaces to be effective and inspirational. 

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