The announcement on Friday of a phased return to the office, may not have had an unanimously positive reception. Some can’t wait. They know they are energised by being around other people, and have missed the busyness of an office environment. Others, are more influenced by their inner thoughts and find the solitude of a home environment conducive to productive working conditions and even creativity. The former may find they are higher in extroversion and the later higher in introversion.
Temperament, impacts how we engage with our work experience. Introverts tend to be observers, listeners, and reflectors finding they do their best work when given time to process internally and share ideas later. Extroverts on the other hand find they will experience more creative collaboration when talking ideas out with others.
As he stood on those all too familiar steps Taoiseach Michael Martin made a really important point. We are, despite our variances in temperament all social human beings. Stereotypes suggesting introverts are anti-social or extroverts want to be around people all the time are incorrect. What’s needed is a balance and some tweaking of our former work environments can provide a workable solution. Let’s address a few areas that may make the transition a bit smoother to hybrid ways of working creating an approach that works for all temperaments.
There has been much sadness over the loss of water cooler moments over the past two years. It wasn’t the water cooler that created these moments of connection but the effort of the people involved to find some commonality on which to connect. This is why focusing on building relationships and finding areas in common by asking insightful questions can nurture those relationships. This can be facilitated through CSR projects, organising social events, or virtual coffees throughout the week. Just remember small groups work best for those higher in introversion.
Good communication is intentional and well-prepared. In a hybrid environment it will be important to ensure that whether people are in the office or working remotely communication is transparent and available asynchronously. This may take a bit more work than if everyone is in the office but also creates opportunities for people to contribute if they are less likely to speak up in a group situation. Create online forums for social chat and use those rather than e-mail for discussions, bring conversations that come up in the office back online for others to participate and ensure central hubs of information so everyone has access.
Like everything office design has gone through different iterations such as all cubicles to total open plan. The middle version seems to be the answer. Modern office design much like the adaptation of our homes during the pandemic requires flexibility. There needs to be quiet spaces for people to not only have meetings but also work individually. Collaborative spaces will be a more important component of offices going forward as the time people spend in the office will be purposeful and focused on interacting with other people. Independent work which can be done remotely will be done so. Office design will need to shift in line with modern ways of working.
Let’s keep what has worked well over the past two years; the increased use of online asynchronous communication tools such as chat functions which work much better for those with a preference to writing than speaking, improved flexibility, a more human approach to work as we brought children and pets on zoom calls and an emphasis and appreciation of the importance of well-being,
If you are returning to the office in the coming weeks recognise there may be very mixed feelings along with some anxiety. Leaning into your emotions rather than ignoring them gives spaces to process and move forward. We’ll all be navigating this post pandemic world together.