Because of the imposed lockdown, we’ve entered into a long period of social isolation. At first, many people experienced life in their own private cocoons as catastrophic. But slowly, the advantages started to become apparent. Working from home was appreciated in particular. Do we still want to return to the old normal?
I myself continuously expressed my desire to return to my former way of working. My work consists to a large extent of talking to students. I find it easier to make contact with someone and to have a confidential talk when you can really look each other in the eye and share the same physical space. Naturally, I appreciate the advantages of working from home. I no longer have to spend two hours travelling to and from work.
That’s definitely a good thing. Still, that advantage doesn’t outweigh the disadvantages of working from home, as far as I’m concerned. I not only miss the interaction with students, but with my colleagues as well. It’s so much easier to communicate during a coffee machine encounter or when you run into someone in the hallway. It allows you to spontaneously share your ideas and thoughts. That way, you also think of new plans and solutions to existing problems.
Many people will take a different view. Why would you miss travelling to work, or those detailed stories about your colleague’s dog or cat? I read somewhere the other day that we will very likely need to train our ‘social skills muscle’ when we return to our workplace. I can well imagine that. At home, we only need to think of ourselves and our housemates, but on the work floor we’re expected to be mindful of our colleagues. That will require some adjustments, as well as some extra energy at first.
It is expected that employees in the Netherlands will not return to a full working week in their offices. It has become clear by now that it’s perhaps easier to get more work done at home than at the office. We’re busier than ever and we work more efficiently than ever. Numerous companies are giving up office spaces because they believe that the ‘old normal’ has become the ‘old-fashioned normal.’ From now on, employees will work from home and attend meetings online, which makes offices redundant. Still, I think we’re missing something: social cohesion.
Social cohesion doesn’t just come about when we all continue to work from home. I believe that it’s essential to allow, or perhaps even require, employees to work at an office for at least a few days a week. A team is more than a group of people who carry out work. You can’t create and sustain that connection between coworkers online. Online quizzes, origami courses or similar activities may lead to more solidarity, but ultimately these things are just substitutes for ‘real’ contact between colleagues. Real contact occurs on the work floor. And I’m not afraid to claim that real contact between colleagues automatically leads to more job satisfaction. And in the end, that’s beneficial to employers as well.