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How to cope with actually working in an office (again)

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So, this is it – the writing’s on the wall, the boss has decreed it and we all must start getting used to seeing each other more often. Those of us who have work on site, where things are being made, installed or ripped out are of course fully familiar with this and can’t see what all the fuss is about. For those in a more office-based environment here are some things you might want to look out for:

Dress code

Be prepared for some real shockers here. You may have to readjust to seeing a bit more of your colleagues (as in the expanse of flesh) than was previously considered acceptable. Being relaxed is the new norm. Colour schemes also may be on the hazardous side – I recommend not looking directly at your neighbour’s bright floral top, for health and safety reasons.

Armpits

You may not have been following this in high fashion circles (as of course do I) but be aware that all types of armpit hair is now considered perfectly acceptable, having been inexplicably banished for years. Try not to stare when it pokes out. And whilst you’re here, remember to don deodorant, we’re all in the same space now.

Sandwich boxes

Since we have all got used to not having Pret or Costa on tap at every corner, some may have got back into the sandwich box tradition. This is fine if the contents aren’t too whiffy. Tip: if a colleague opens their box and others nearby recoil – but you can’t smell it, book yourself a PCR test immediately.

Pictures of the lockdown puppy

Unless you’re a dog lover, you will be assailed by colleagues showing interminable pictures of their Frenchie, pug or whatever on their phone. Best to pretend that you have a serious reaction to dogs and even the sight of one might induce projectile vomiting. No one wants to be cleaning their phone on the first day back.

Transitions

Of course, there is a possibility that someone you last saw in the office may return as someone completely different and sporting a whole new wardrobe, or experimental hair colour. Remember it’s totally their choice, and the onus is on you as to how you deal with it. In the past I have broken the ice in such situations by saying ‘Oh, I don’t think we’ve been introduced?’

Tales of how much money people have saved

You may be regaled by earnest conversations about the thousands people have saved by not commuting. This might be made worse when they tell you they have spent it on a jet ski (which suggests they might just have spent a bit more time on the water than they should have). On the other hand, they might tell you that they’ve been able to fund a deposit for their eldest’s flat, in which case you might feel guilty, because you bought a jet ski.

You’re not on mute

Be on your best behaviour when meeting people in an office for the first few times. Remember there is no mute button in a room, so taking phone calls when in a meeting will be unwelcome, however important it might seem. Telling a deliverer to ‘put it in the back passage’ could be misconstrued and lead to giggling.

Why do the powers that be really want their workers back?

A cynical view about why we hear so many captains of industry repeatedly saying people should be working from the office is this: It has less to do with the welfare of the workers, but more because these same captains were the one who convinced the board to sign the expensive lease on your swanky offices – and they had better make sure they’re getting value for money, or the board will be after blood.

Be on the lookout for the ‘social cities’ line that city centres thrive on all the sandwich bars and dry cleaners, so we owe it to the world to play our part. Then stop and ask yourself ‘So I’m being asked to travel back to the office so that some sandwich maker can keep their job?’.

The serious stuff

On the other hand, and this is no laughing matter, do remember that for many, working from home may have been a lonely experience, and there is a serious risk of mental health issues becoming a real problem. Research shows that those whose work is primarily in the manual sector have suffered the most. Quite how this transcends across the project management profession is not a clear-cut question, but it’s probably best not to assume a colleague is A-OK. Some of us have lost loved ones throughout the pandemic. Lives have changed and we may not know. One of the nicest things I have detected in recent months is that people in email and conversations often start with ‘How are you…?’ and they really mean it.

So, do most people now want a hybrid style of working?

Well, if they do it’s probably because most of us have realised, we can work pretty much just as efficiently when working remotely. The points made above are important; some will suffer from some aspect of mental health issues or lack of engagement. It’s going to be an interesting few years as we settle into a new equilibrium. What are you planning to do? How are you going to work? Let us know on the APM Hub

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