Routine allows some certainty in a world over which we have little control. As many of us try to predict how our routines will shift now that the CDC has revised its guidelines, there’s a cognitive and emotional difference between attending a family BBQ and the anxiety provoked at the thought of returning to one’s place of employment.
Science (and common sense) says that human connection improves health, happiness, and productivity. Yet many of us experience symptoms of the Sunday Scaries at the prospect of returning to an office.
Work may be more meaningful when we are once again able to engage in nourishing in-person interaction with colleagues. Research also posits that an antidote for burnout, or languishing as Adam Grant put it, is a connection to purpose. Connection to purpose at work is motivating and engaging, something business leaders cite as their biggest issue in 2020.
If we know that human connection helps us find purpose in our work, why do many of us have existential dread about returning to work and life picking up speed again?
Humans are uncomfortable with uncertainty.
Many knowledge workers are accustomed to our new routines (we have enough time for morning exercise and love the lounge-wear dress code). A lot of Americans bought cars and worked from Airbnbs. Some (including yours truly) moved back in with their parents and others struggled to be both tech support and first-grade teacher to children while juggling their own jobs.
How Guru is planning for the new reality of a hybrid workplace
The collective and individual experience of burnout will be exacerbated with new or perceived obligations that come along with returning to work. In an April 2021 survey, Flex Jobs reported that “not having to commute is the top benefit for remote workers.”
In an effort to facilitate a “soft landing” for employees as some return to an office, Guru’s Operations and Communication teams partnered to address to following:
Acknowledgment and acceptance of the transition to hybrid work
This return could be experienced as a sharp transition for individuals and communities (perhaps similar to the jarring and jostling in March 2020). The People Ops team has a motto that “all and any of this is subject to change.” Approaching our return to the office with flexibility, humility, and humor (where appropriate) allows us to evolve with new health and safety information, as well as learn and grow from employee experience and feedback.
Creation of a formal workplace strategy team
At Guru, we’re obsessively deliberate about the employee experience. Extending beyond our return to work planning, strong partnership and collaboration between People + IT + Internal Comms will be essential as we scale into 2022. We also introduced a new, hybrid employee classification and asked our team members to self-identify their preferred way of working (remote, hub, full-time office employee) via a series of surveys. Essential questions we considered in this process include:
- How can we provide a consistent experience for each human being no matter where or how they sit? ie. remote, hybrid, and full-time in the office
- Will a remote or hybrid employee’s access to the knowledge they need to do their jobs, leadership, relationship building, be negatively impacted by not inhabiting a physical space?
- How will the various implicit and institutional biases and hierarchies manifest as we test these new structures and how do we address and mitigate them?
Offering the right resources for digital wellness
We’re working to empower employees to take responsibility for their individual digital wellness. Guru defines Digital Wellness as a “state of balance while working with and using technology, that promotes health and connection to purpose.” We know that people are working longer hours on their devices and according to the National Institute of Mental Health, the mental health impacts [of Covid] will outlive the pandemic itself.
The mental and emotional load of too many messages, meetings, not enough social interaction or time-off decreases belonging and hurts productivity.
The office reopening will introduce variables like commuting and childcare adjustments. Everyone has different needs that help them achieve balance and we’d be kidding ourselves if we thought we could change habitual behavior.
Individuals need to do what is right for them, but our organization can provide frameworks, guidance, and model consistency to help employees alleviate burnout. We hypothesize that flexibility and agency around the ways in which employees “return to work” and “seek balance” will help employees do the unique work for which they were hired.
Examples to try: OOO Coverage Template and Crafting your Digital Wellness Charter
Continuing to craft a culture of engagement
An asynchronous communication culture that will cultivate an engaged, inclusive & diverse team of employee advocates. We introduced the Golden Rule of Internal communications, in which we ask employees to both write and read with intention, creating a feedback loop that improves how we can communicate across time zones and working styles.
How do we create trusted systems and processes so that when an individual is not in a meeting, they know their absence doesn’t mean their work isn’t valued or they’re missing something critical?
How can we allow JOMO (joy of missing out) vs. FOMO?
If we’re consistent and transparent about how we make, track and disseminate company goals, we hope to inspire and support our dynamic team.
Prioritizing focus time
Being busy is not a proxy for one’s personhood or value. Nor is a schedule of back-to-back meetings an indication of the quality of your work. After kicking off the fiscal year with a ruthless and kind meeting audit, we’re experimenting with “No meeting Wednesday” to create space for employees to focus on deep work instead of draining Zoom hopping. Here are some other ways we’re optimizing focus time.
Guru aspires to be open and curious and humble as we ease into a return to the office. We ensure that the Workplace Strategy team is accessible and available via monthly office hours and dedicated Slack channels, and we gather employee feedback (anonymously and candidly). The team addresses questions at bi-weekly Town Halls, and of course, all of the changing information is captured and updated in Guru. If we aim to be “remote first” and “digital by default,” we can’t take ourselves too seriously, but we need to take our employee feedback and experience seriously.