The Deckchair Philosopher prepares to return to the office

Returning to the office

The Deckchair Philosopher and Thinkercafé Working Group have been doing some more deep thinking on the subject of returning to the office…after this prolonged period of woho (working from home). There will be challenges and opportunities for you and your employer.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, represented as a pyramid, with the more basic needs at the bottom

Are CBD tower block offices really the new dinosaurs?

Was that pre-pandemic office-efficiency idea of “hot desking” such a good idea? Pre-pandemic, did we impede introverted knowledge workers by forcing them to work in highly distractive open plan offices? The fact that so many workers tended to either start early or work into the night in a less distracting empty office was telling us what?

Did we over emphasise requirements for low energy use and 6-star green office ratings?  Did we disproportionately over-pander to extroverts advocating work practices that best fit their character?

‘Best meme yet: Introverts have been flattening the curve since, forever!’

Did we really need all those pre-pandemic international trips and interstate trips simply to attend meetings? We seem to be doing fine with video meetings from home. Even some conferences are going online.

Did we really need all that pre-pandemic bureaucratic multi layered physical signing of approvals? We seem to be doing fine with electronic signing.

Previously ‘useless’ jobs like telephone sanitisers and escalator hand rail cleaners are now essential worker roles.  Manners and waiting for your elders and betters to go through a door are new normal. And the really big question – did we really need those CBD skyscrapers full with thousands of employees?

‘When we really peeled the onion down to essential tasks and essential workers, it laid bare a lot of unnecessary “outer layers” of
the onion’

However, there is always another side to every perspective.

Distractions and connectedness provided by offices can sometimes enable motivation and productivity too. And it is hard to build and maintain a team culture if team members never meet each other.  Physical presence and body language impart a depth of communication that Zoom cannot. The sheer number of participants that you can meet onscreen at a webinar can be really daunting. Some are already showing avatars and fake backgrounds rather than their live faces from their home offices as they listen in with their mics on mute.

Trust is really hard to build remotely. And as we know from Steven Covey’s excellent book, “The Speed of Trust”, trust takes years to build but can be lost in seconds. Nothing says you care more than a personal (actually physically in person) visit and chat with someone. Whilst an offhand text, or misconstrued unmuted comment on Zoom can do instant damage.

The mental costs of isolation, of being alone with your anxieties and potentially self-destructive thoughts is high. Company staff, at home but still on full salary might complain about telecommuting and lockdown with their family members and household pets, but try living in a one bed apartment on your own and not going out…. unless you already live on the streets.

Human beings are primates that came down from the trees, stood upright and ventured out into the savannah. One of the reasons we developed large brains (becoming Homo ‘Sapiens’) was to keep track of social hierarchy and communication within the troop as we hunted game and foraged in the savannah.  People need the physical and social company of others, even the introverts.  To be expelled from a troop or tribe leaves you prone to attack by predators.  The same is still true today, those on the fringes of society often fare badly.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs shows our most basic and important needs at the bottom of the pyramid.

These are: physiological like food, health and rest; safety need like shelter, clothing, security; love and belonging which come from human contact and friends. The primary source of psychological support comes from interactions and contact with other humans, not from Foxtel, Amazon Prime, Zoom….. or Uber eats.

Stay safe and well, and get ready to commute to the office, perhaps sooner than some would now wish for?

PS. The Deckchair Philosopher is neither an extrovert or introvert but an ambivert.