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Back to the Future: Blending the Old with the New

“I’m so happy things are getting back to normal.”

For most workers, the idea of “getting back to normal” prompts visions of co-workers socializing, sharing physical space with work buddies and clients, and general office shenanigans. But for those who were working remotely prior to the pandemic, the idea of “getting back to normal” may prompt flashbacks of dropped or unmanageable Zoom calls, activities and discussions centered around and dominated by in-person employees, and the feeling of being just a faceless, unknown name behind a company email.

Sure, it will be refreshing to regain some sense of normalcy. The past year and a half has put tremendous pressure and strain on people, their families, and their organizations, and a return to a pre-pandemic lifestyle will be a welcome one. However, truly mature organizations (and their employees) will understand that a “return to normal” does not reflect forward progress. The levels of innovation and creative problem solving during the pandemic that businesses and people used to stay connected were unprecedented. As we move forward with the ultimate goal of regaining a sense of normalcy, there is an opportunity to capitalize on the lessons we learned during our crash course in remote work.

For example, consider the practical uses of some of our pandemic-essentials:

Zoom: There are some events that should be held in person – but there are also some that may actually be more efficient or convenient held virtually. Continuing to utilize Zoom for occasional or straight-forward meetings helps level the playing field for remote workers. Doing this has benefits for all employees:

    1. For remote workers, it allows them to contribute at the same level as their peers without being overwhelmed or overlooked by the large in-person group.
    2. As a bonus, it can also build in some flexibility to the schedule of those working primarily in-person. For example, holding weekly all-staff meetings virtually could allow all workers to ease into Monday morning from home!

Sharepoint/Google Docs: When holding events that are primarily attended in-person, consider ways to utilize the technology encouraged collaboration during the pandemic. For example, instead of brainstorming ideas using a whiteboard, ask your employees to bring their laptops to the meeting and submit ideas in a shared document instead.

Facetime: Often times, remote workers field quick calls from those in-office with little socialization. By retaining the use of technology like Facetime or Zoom with remote workers, even for those quick, one-off calls, you can help increase the levels of engagement and personal investments of your remote employees.

Online Ordering: Don’t forget about the perks! After 2020, we are all experts at online shopping – and your remote employees know it is just as easy for your organization to order coffee to a remote-location Starbucks as it is for you to order coffee for the in-person employees. Small gestures can go a long way to help your remote employees feel appreciated and included.

As we return to our offices, some of which have been left untouched for months and may seem eerily reminiscent of 2019, it may be tempting to slip back into our old habits in an attempt to regain what we once had. We encourage you, instead, to seek to find a balance between the old and the new – to rebuild what we lost while also retaining what we have learned about being together while apart.

By: Kelsey Richels, M.S.