A Return to Office, Prehistoric Flashback
"If the desire and belief to return to pre-pandemic inefficiency and waste is a marker for perceived success over the pandemic itself, then we will have learned little outside the medical science of COVID19."

Do you remember the pre-pandemic routine when it came to getting ready to go to “the office”? It was probably a little bit different, depending on how long your commute was to and from the workplace. Either way, it likely involved getting up earlier than perhaps most people wanted so they could “get to the office”. The routine may have varied, but could include things like, shower, breakfast, help the kids, do the dishes, school drop off, daycare drop off, gas in the car, and then get on the road for upwards of a 2-hour commute one way. Maybe there would  be a stop to grab a coffee in a long drive through line, but not quite as long as the one caused by the arrival of TimBiebs. This was followed up at the end of the day with a similar routine, perhaps in reverse order while adding a scramble to get supper ready, deal with homework, clean-up, get lunches ready for the next day, tuck the kids in, and check your work phone in case you missed something while you were picking up the kids. Followed up by crashing out on the sofa, watching that favourite show you recorded a week ago that you hadn’t quite gotten through yet. Life was busy, but was it busy for the right reasons?


The pandemic demonstrated on a global scale that it was worthwhile reconsidering our return on investments from a work-life value perspective. Whether society and leaders translate that into a learning opportunity that changes how and what we do, will be determined by the long-term adjustments of possibly misguided agendas that are politically or economically driven. If the desire and belief to return to pre-pandemic inefficiency and waste is a marker for perceived success over the pandemic itself, then we will have learned little outside the medical science of COVID19. If, however, the lesson is translated to a modern model that shows real-time extensibility and intuition that supports efficiency, the benefits realized during the pandemic can mature to support better mental and physical health, an improvement for the environment, and an economy that is not dependent on business and people geography.


Mental Health

The pandemic helped two important mental health realizations come to the forefront. First, that not everyone benefits or excels from working remotely. Second, that not everyone benefits or excels from working in an office environment. The idea of not being able to interact with another human being in a physically present environment was almost unbearable for some. Equally, there were those that thrived remotely as it relieved travel time, family schedule challenges, and financial burdens, amoung other pressures, removing barriers that consumed their daily thoughts and time, as they gladly embraced online tools. The lesson learned is that neither model provides a one-size fits all approach. Forcing one over the other where there is no operational benefit to an organization won’t produce better results, although it may more likely impact mental health. In a pre-pandemic article from Mental Health America, titled “The Mental Health Benefits of Remote and Flexible Work”, it was cited that “by offering flexible work options, companies are signaling to their employees that they can and should devote more time to health and wellness. That’s likely why 77% of those we surveyed said flexible work options would help them be healthier.”


If the organization’s operational capabilities won’t be impacted, and there is almost two years’ worth of data to support that now, then returning people to an office for the sake of returning people to an office isn’t just poor use of data, it’s negligent leadership that will impact mental health and the bottom line in the long-term. It would be just as negligent to ignore those who can’t cope at home. The ability to enable these two scenarios can be very delicate while avoiding exclusivity of one over the other.


The Environment

A return to the workplace will also impact the environment and in fact, it likely already has, as the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development) reported in May 2021 that “the environmental pressures that are mostly linked to energy use observed a sharp decline in 2020 of 7-8%, followed by a gradual recovery to 2-3% below the pre-COVID baseline projection. This includes emissions of GHGs, the air pollutants nitrogen oxide (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) and fossil fuel materials use.” The world witnessed that reality as smog over big cities lifted. It accelerated the understanding and belief that any of the environmental challenges we face can be overcome if we choose to overcome them. Unnecessarily putting more cars and other transportation on the road and then charging carbon taxes when it can be avoided also seems counter-intuitive. For years there’s been conspiracy versus science arguments about the impact of human behaviour on the environment as some needed to see the micro particles of pollution in the wind materialize in the palm of their hand before they were willing to acknowledge it, and even then, there are some who would believe it is just a magic trick. The pandemic revealed real proof in how the natural environment can recover if there is a willingness to change human habits. If you have ever wondered what your carbon footprint is, check out the online calculator at carbonfootprint.com to gain a sense of your contribution.


Business & People Geography

Another fossil argument is that returning people to the office will support the businesses who no longer have the same pre-pandemic traffic. While there is some truth that an increase in the volume of people may result in the increase of business transactions, providing that same volume still wishes to conduct business there, it doesn’t mean the same people have to return to the same place. The buildings that hosted people in six by eight-foot cubicles can be repurposed, especially during times where housing seems to be both in short supply and out of financial reach for some. The idea that those businesses can only survive if the pre-pandemic residents return is a lazy band-aid reaction that lacks planning, possibly fuelled by an underlying resistance to change.


Everybody Walk Their Dinosaur

Dinosaur Walking

Have you ever wondered why the dinosaurs became extinct? Various scientific articles provide a multitude of theories that culminate to environmental change, including but not limited to: a meteor crashed into the earth, volcanic ash suffocated them, disease wiped them out, and their food supply was disrupted. Those ultimately come down to one common theme and that is adaptability. When it comes to returning people to an office space, there are far more reasons to employ adaptability than to fall back into the “we always did it that way” mentality. I must wonder that if the dinosaurs could adapt to the change, perhaps they would have survived. Maybe they did, because when it comes to some of the theories about returning to an office space, dinosaurs still seem to be walking the earth.


This is an opinion article by Guido Piraino of  The Monthly Social Podcast. It may also be heard on The Path Radio Mix Online. You can read other opinion articles on the blog page.


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