We’ve got some good news and some bad news: You’re finally going back to the office. But it may be only a day or two a week.
Which is the good news and which is the bad depends on how much you’ve missed interacting with your co-workers in person versus how much you hated the commute.
As the pandemic eases, companies are asking more employees to work face-to-face and butts-in-the-cubicle. But many won’t be returning to a Monday-to-Friday schedule. Instead, lots of us will become hybrid workers.
In the before times, you likely had your workweek routine dialed in because you’d been doing it five days a week for months or years on end. Now you can’t remember your office phone number or where you left your employee ID.
It’s going to take some adjustment to be productive in the home office and the office-office. Here are a few suggestions on how to hybrid.
How to get there
If you’re only going to the office part-time, the monthly parking contract or the monthly transit pass may be overkill. You could go two different directions here: If it’s only once a week, maybe you treat your car to the heated underground parking ramp.
Or maybe you try bike commuting. Biking to work might seem a bit daunting if you do it every day, but it’s a lot more doable once a week.
It’s even easier if you get an electric bike. Higher gas prices and the pandemic have driven interest in e-bikes as commuting vehicles, including electric-assist cargo bikes, which can also haul kids to school, said Luke Breen, owner of Perennial Cycles in Minneapolis.
“We’re starting to see it in a huge way,” Breen said. “Twenty-twenty was the beginning of a completely new mentality.”
What to wear
The sweats and slippers we’ve been wearing are likely to accelerate the trend toward casual attire in the office.
But while it might be a drag to iron your shirt five days a week, doing so once every seven days isn’t such a heavy lift. If you only need a couple of work outfits, why not make them nice?
“There’s still this feeling, ‘Because I’m going into the office, I’m going to try a little harder,’ ” said Colleen Flaherty Manchester, an associate professor with the Department of Work and Organizations in the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management.
After all, the rest of the week is casual Friday for the hybrid worker.
Pick the right day
If you’re going into the office only one day a week, pick the right day, Manchester advises.
You’re not going in to be reunited with your office chair or because you miss the workplace coffee. The real pull is your co-workers. If you can, consider coordinating your schedules so you’re all there on the same day. Otherwise, you’ll be working alone. Again.
How to behave
It’s been two years, so it may take time to reacquaint yourself with office etiquette.
“I’m not saying it will be high school reunion awkward, but it will be more than zero awkward,” said John Kammeyer-Mueller, a professor of industrial relations at the Carlson School.
Informal conversations in the office will be more free-flowing and personal than the stilted, one-at-a-time communication on Zoom. New employees (that means anyone hired in the past two years) may have to introduce themselves to their co-workers.
But resist the urge to hug everyone, says St. Paul etiquette expert and author Juliet Mitchell.
“Some people are not ready for the hugging. They’re not ready for the handshake,” Mitchell said.
You can still convey your happiness at seeing people in person with smiles, nods and eye contact, she said.
The things you’ll carry
You’ll probably be hauling your lunch, laptop and workout clothes to and from the office-office and the home office. Instead of your college Fjällräven backpack, consider a classier option, like the pricey-but-polished totes, backpacks and bags from local leather goods company J.W. Hulme.
What to eat
Some of your favorite lunch spots may have closed. And thanks to inflation, you may expect sticker shock at the ones still operating. But again, if you’re going to the office only once a week, make it a day to go to lunch with your co-workers. The restaurants surely could use the business and who knows what’s been growing in the office refrigerator over the past two years.
Explaining to your dog
If this is the first time you’re going to be away from home for a full workday, practice getting your pandemic puppy used to your absence, advised Kristi Flynn, an assistant professor with the University of Minnesota’s Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences.
Try being out of your dog’s sight for a period of time, perhaps giving your dog a favorite toy or food in a puzzle dispenser before you leave, and then returning before the dog completes the treat. Extend the time between bathroom breaks to get the dog used to longer absences. Get your dog used to being in its kennel while you’re home by rewarding it with treats when it goes into the kennel.
Get ready for more change
It’s a decision that may be above your pay grade, but if everyone is hybrid-working, the bosses will no doubt be asking if the company needs to rent, heat and maintain as much space as it used to.
Be prepared to see some changes to the office, with possible shared work stations in the cards.