We’re past the one-year anniversary of the lockdown in the United States after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite a concerning surge in infection rates, vaccination is proceeding rapidly, and many states are making the vaccine available to everyone. As a result, many of us are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Organizations are beginning to think about what work life is going to look like in the new normal. Clearly, people were able to be productive while working from home. Many people actually found a lot to like about the work-from-home environment, including the absence of a commute and the ability to interleave work and family responsibilities.
Because plans for the future are in flux, now is a good time for you to have some influence on what the post-pandemic work environment looks like. But that will require a little planning.
Start by grabbing a sheet of paper (or a spreadsheet) and dividing it into three columns. Label them: What do I miss? What do I love? What do I do?
In the first column, think back to those bygone days when work was normal. Which aspects of that have you been unable to duplicate? It might have been spending time working closely with colleagues, traveling to visit customers and clients, or having a workspace with whiteboards, bulletin boards, and environments you could organize to make you more productive.
Over the last year, most people have tried to do the best they can to stay busy and productive during a difficult time. As we shift into the post-COVID-19 environment, though, it is important to be mindful about how to reinstate some of what you used to be able to do effectively. That might mean going to the office more often, adding travel back into your schedule, or getting a budget to redo a part of your home office.
It is important to think about that now, because, if there are things you really want to be included in plans for the future, you should be communicating about that with supervisors and other people involved in planning right now. It will be much harder to influence those plans once they have been laid out in more detail.
In the second column, focus on what has gone well in your work-from-home environment. You might enjoy the flexibility, the lack of commute, or having a private workspace most of the time. Perhaps you moved away from the city where your job is located and are loving not being tied to a particular region of the country.
You’d like to preserve as much of the benefit of the work-from-home environment as possible after the pandemic. Communicate with your supervisor about what you think has gone well. People in leadership positions often have strong opinions about how their employees should work, but those opinions would benefit from knowing more specifics about your experience. Provide input even if you haven’t been asked for it yet.
Finally, you need to start thinking more about what actions you will need to take in order to make the new work environment good for you. That way, when your organization does announce its plans for the future, you can prepare for your ideal environment. The aim here is to be specific about what you need to do—specific enough that you could put particular actions on your calendar and get them done.
If you are going to continue working from home, then you need to figure out the obstacles to having the ideal workspace and then prepare to overcome them. If you get stuck solving these problems, reach out to colleagues and talk about how they handle these issues. Don’t let the subpar aspects of working from home persist if the temporary becomes the permanent.
If you are going to be returning to work, then what can you do to ensure that some of the great things about work-from-home survive? Do you need to negotiate some more flexible time? Do you need to find a less intensive way to commute to work?
The reality is that when we shift to the post-COVID-19 era, there will be a few weeks where there is a renewed opportunity to change habits and fix the workplace environment. After that, the flood of work will kick in, and you’ll lose the window of opportunity to improve your work life or your work-life balance. Preparing for that shift in advance is a great way to ensure you don’t miss out on the chance to get the best of both worlds.