Is Returning to the Office the Safe Call?

Many employees and their leaders want to return to in-person work ASAP, at least in some capacity. One survey revealed 70% of people working from home want to return to their workplace. Beyond the needs of many employees to return for technical equipment, many others are struggling with feelings of isolation and are experiencing the need for socialization as well as some sense of structure. 


To support employee wellbeing and company productivity, leaders continue to look to create opportunities for employees to meet and work in-person at the office, but it appears there is no turn-key solution to reopening the doors. Challenged to meet new health and safety regulations as well as varying employee needs, leaders must think outside of the box to overcome the obstacles of the here-to-stay hybrid work environment.


57% of people are experiencing social isolation due to the pandemic.


Why in-person matters

Although remote work leads to increased happiness for many, social interaction is key to well-being for most people. People want to see their coworkers and work together in person. In our remote work survey, 57% of people are experiencing social isolation due to the pandemic. Meanwhile, many others have their hands and homes full of at-home schooling and caring for loved ones. In another survey of nearly 4,000 Americans currently working from home, 46.8% said they want to return to the office to have social interactions with their co-workers, while 28.9% of individuals living with children and 30% of married people want to return to their workplaces due to overwhelm from distractions at home


In Bluescape’s recent study on distributed team trends, here’s what we learned:

  • 57% of employees struggle with feeling isolated
  • 52% of managers told us that they are tired from working long hours
  • 31% of managers say they are stressed due to the impacts of working from home
  • 34% of employees say they are distracted 


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What stands in the way of reopening the office

Wanting to return to the office is one thing, but putting procedures in place is another. For starters, physical office environments are different for every company, so there’s little by way of a roadmap. Generally speaking, the ratio of an office’s space to the number of employees will determine how many people can occupy the space at a given time. Easy, right? Space out desks, station hand sanitizers, and perhaps increase janitorial services. But the equation gets a little more complicated when entrances, elevators, and restrooms are considered. Offices operating within highrises, for instance, could see long wait times as only a few people will be able to take the lift while adhering to social distancing protocols. According to an employee at Salesforce, shuffling employees to and from the ground floor to their offices could take as long as three hours for a given employee. 


Besides physical hurdles and navigating the legalities, there are also a number of more nuanced obstacles to overcome. While you may like to think an entire department is keen to return, some employees may have higher levels of personal health risk due to pre-existing conditions or due to living with at-risk family members. Other employees may be responsible for children learning from home. The bottom line is you cannot make it mandatory for people to come back, and managing any return will be more easily said than done.


 The bottom line is you cannot make it mandatory for people to come back.


Think outside the office

Are leaders limiting themselves by thinking only of ways to get back to the office? With all the red tape and differing opinions, perhaps it’s time to consider other solutions. Much more than creating a workplace safe from spreading germs and viruses, there exists an opportunity to transform working environments to not only accommodate employee wellbeing but lead to enhanced work arrangements altogether. 


As the future becomes less and less reliant on the physical office, more people will expect flexible work arrangements. With the rise of virtual work technologies, the office will be rendered inadequate in time. Here are some outside-of-the-office ideas for bringing employees together and creating more effective work arrangements:

  • Use HQ as a central base not “the office.” Create a clubhouse environment to set aside for team gatherings and events. Don’t bring your people in simply for water cooler talk between time spent isolated in cubicles. Make home base a place for interaction and collaboration.  
  • Use Airbnb to rent offsite spaces to bring teams together in safe and inspiring environments. Invest in these company offsites regularly to keep your people connected and less fatigued by Zoom. 
  • Stay flexible and listen to what your people want. Workers want a say in their return. Eagle Hill Consulting found 41% of workers surveyed believe having a say in return to the office strategies would make them feel safe upon returning.


As leaders consider future work arrangements, the number one priority must remain employee health, which includes both staying virus-free and supporting wellbeing. Healthy employees, after all, are productive employees. While returning to the office is a good temporary solution, it should be considered as such, and more creative solutions must be considered. Whether you like it or not, what we consider to be “the office” is evolving more rapidly than ever before. Instead of reaching back for the old normal, forward-thinking leaders must proactively be seeking what’s next to support their employees, and best prepare their businesses for what lies ahead.

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About the Author

Brett Jackson
Copywriter, Life Coach, and Former Professional Athlete
Brett is a copywriter, life coach and former professional athlete. He uses his teamwork and leadership experiences from Major League Baseball to write about topics that enable healthier and happier lifestyles.

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