Perspectives Matter | Jan 2021

Getting Back to the Office: 10 Things to Look Forward to in 2021

By: The Matter Team

Woman Celebrating 2021 New Year

1. People:

Yes, people! Oh happy hours, lunches and office brainstorming sessions with our colleagues, how we’ve missed you. There’s nothing quite like having a white board up on a wall for all to see and collectively gather the latest and greatest ideas. Or wandering into a colleague’s office to go over plans and reports. We miss human contact and particularly in-person collaboration, so ‘people’ are at the top of our list of things we are most looking forward to.

2. The New 9-5:

Whether we have enjoyed it or not, we learned in 2020 (it’s hard now, even to type these numbers) that many of us CAN work from home. We can be accountable, we can keep a normal schedule and we can save time on our commutes. With this insight, we believe employers will have greater flexibility moving forward in how to approach the workweek. It might be “work from home Fridays” or a staggered schedule to allow a mix of work at the office and at home. It might be a policy that allows parents to pick up their kids from school and finish their work from home, or it might mean taking a break from a bustling workplace to work from home, or vice versa, to better focus on projects that require more concentration,

3. Mental Health is Now Top of Mind:

Isolation, job insecurity, and too much time around your spouse and family are all factors that have led to mental health crises for many. Prior to this past year (let’s not mention the year by name, again), mental health was dealt with privately. Sure, mental health may be covered by your company’s health plan, but you weren’t actually speaking to your boss or employees about it. This past year, we’ve found that people have been much more inclined to talk about their mental health and even communicate their need to seek help with their employer. We believe this openness will continue to be normalized as we go into the new year and, let’s face it, nothing ever gets resolved when you sweep it under the rug. We are also seeing a greater degree of access to mental health professionals with online therapy services like Talkspace, which now accepts payment from many insurance providers.

4. Extra Family Time:

While we have found that trying to be a teacher to your six-year-old while still managing a busy workload leads to an incredible amount of stress (see #3, ahem), we have found that we like the extra time with our spouses, kids and lovable pets. We are more aware that time is short and that we don’t really want our jobs to keep us from school plays or baseball games. We now recognize that we can be more flexible with our work week and that can allow for leaving work early to be there for our family, plus we now know that we have the tools to finish off the workday at home later in the evening.

5. Less Travel:

For many of us, video meetings were rare pre-COVID. We may have even found them to be a bit hokey. Meetings on Zoom and Microsoft Teams are now a part of the day-to-day workplace, and we have found that in many instances, they CAN replace face-to-face contact. While business travel will not be dead, it will certainly be less frequent. Plus, while there’s nothing quite like meeting in person for collaboration, we believe that video meetings will remain popular in a post-COVID workplace and will alleviate travel demands for a lot of people. That’s good news for many of us who have described our jobs as “living on a plane.”

6. Vaccinations:

Much of our return to the office will hinge on vaccinations – who has been vaccinated, and who hasn’t. There will even be events, conventions, and other activities that will require vaccinations. Your employer may even require that you be vaccinated before you return to the office. Skeptical about vaccinations? We think employers will continue to offer video meetings and work from home options for those who want to wait… at least, for now. With that, we will see a need for employers and employment law to help us navigate solutions for employees who don’t want to be vaccinated in 2021, and likely beyond this upcoming year.

7. Expansion of Wellness Programs:

The stressors of this past year have been through the roof. In addition to encouraging employees to seek support through therapists, group counseling, etc., employers will be encouraging employees to take care of their wellness while at the office. Ways to implement such programs might include a time set, daily, for afternoon walks – knowing that sunlight, exercise and fresh air are key to help fight depression; as well as the development of onsite physical fitness classes and gyms as well as other activities, like running, while at the office.

8. A New Office:

While we are all thrilled to have vaccines rolling out, we are also keenly aware that we want to work in office spaces that limit the spread of bacteria and provide personal spaces. At the same time, we want to feel inspired, plus we want our teams to feel inspired. Expect to see better HVAC systems, operable windows and hand sanitizers in public spaces, plus new policies in common areas like kitchens and conference rooms. There will be a reconfiguration of the bullpen as we touched on in an earlier blog, plus new furniture layouts that support activity-based work where you can find quiet areas to focus. Areas for collaboration will provide a more kinetic environment. Many older offices will be forced to remodel to support the vitality the modern workforce craves away from home.

9. Healthcare:

Healthcare has been a major issue for employers and employees since the Affordable Care Act. COVID-19 will have lasting implications on companies and the types of healthcare plans available to employees. Companies know that the price of healthcare is high, but not as high as the price of unhealthy employees. We expect to see greater attention to the types of healthcare available to employees, as well as programs that are focused on prevention.

10. Elevated Customer Service:

One of our New Year’s resolutions is to do more to show our customers and clients how much we appreciate them. Without their business, this past year would not have been possible. While communicating through masks and limits on in-person contact have kept us physically separated, we have been reminded to not take our customers and clients for granted. We are reminded of all those lessons our parents taught us – to treat others as we want to be treated and to always say please and thank you. We are reminded that we are all human beings.