Office Life May Not Be The Same, But It Can Be Better

If you’re one of the many knowledge workers who have returned to the office in recent weeks, you may have noticed that things are a bit…different. Commutes are longer, in-person interactions feel awkward, and somehow you’re still spending an awful lot of time on Zoom.

Office life may not be exactly what you remember, and that might be a good thing. Use this opportunity to take a fresh look at how you collaborate. Here are three ways that we can keep the best of the way things were, with the best of what we’ve learned, to create a better overall way of working.

Have better meetings

Just because we’re back together doesn’t mean that we need to spend all day in the conference room. In our work with organizations, we find that about 35% of meeting time is wasted – time we can’t afford to waste. Especially now that commutes are back.

The first step is making sure you really need a meeting and that you’re bringing only the necessary people to the table. Don’t waste group time with updates and information that could be provided asynchronously.

In meetings that truly need to be meetings, include a specific purpose in your invite to clarify what you want to accomplish. Think “Finalize DEI initiative Q2 tactics” rather than “Touch base on DEI.” Make sure that all the invitees know their role in reaching this objective, and ensure they have the information and context they need to contribute, preferably via a pre-read.

Make yourself less available

For many, one of the perks of working remotely was the ability to make time for focused work. From the comfort of the dining room, it was harder to get pulled into an impromptu meeting, distracted by a chatty co-worker, or interrupted by a quick question.

While you can’t entirely eliminate these distractions, there are a few tricks to preserve your own working time in the office. First, schedule dedicated blocks on your calendar during times when you think best – for many, this is in the morning. Focus time should be blocked for no less than 90 minutes to give yourself the opportunity to get into a true flow state.

Turn down distractions by temporarily ghosting your email and turning off notifications (if your role allows) and setting an away message on your team’s IM channel. If available in your office space (and if you don’t have a door to close), book yourself a small conference room. If that’s not possible, establish a signal with your team that you’re unavailable to chat, either by putting in your headphones or creating a firm but friendly sign – think, “Out Fishing,” but for focused work.

Remember to take breaks

While it was less easy to be distracted by colleagues while working from home, it was much easier to be distracted by life – your dog or cat, your dirty dishes, or even just the sunshine on your porch. And in many ways, this was a good thing, because it encouraged you to take a break.

Even if your office doesn’t come with furry friends, make it a point to get up and move throughout the day, for the benefit of your physical and mental health, your creativity, and your ability to focus. Take a walk around the block, or a walk around your floor. Find somewhere to eat lunch that isn’t your desk. Or be the chatty co-worker and (briefly) distract a friend.

For some, going back to the office is a welcome return to normalcy. For others, it’s a difficult transition back to a stressful way of life. And for many of us, it’s still a work in progress. Regardless of when and how you return, anchoring on some best practices – for productivity and wellness – will make the transition smoother.