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Why calling it a ‘return to work’ minimizes pandemic progress

When speaking about your company’s return process, be careful in the connotation you’re using.

Why calling it a ‘return to work’ minimizes pandemic progress
[Photo: Rawpxiel]

As the saying goes, “language matters.” And if you’re a leader, at the front of a company after March 2020, your words matter a lot. That’s why, when talking about companies implementing practices that range from requiring five-day-a-week attendance or encouraging in-person attendance, we’re careful not to say, “back to work.” This implies that the pandemic inspired a reprieve from work. In many cases, including my own, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Using the phrase “return to office” feels more accurate, drawing a very subtle, albeit essential, distinction.

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Just as every individual relationship to work has varied over the course of the pandemic, so has our collective understanding of what an ideal model for work might look like. The one thing we can all agree on is that a one-size-fits-all approach is a myth. Every company should tailor its own approach to its industry, as well as the needs and preferences of its employees. A factory’s take on WFH (“work from home”) will differ vastly from a tech startup’s style.

With increased flexibility comes an ever-evolving interest in creating an attractive workplace for employees. Paying attention to individual working styles—introvert versus extrovert, for example—creates a strong argument in favor of the hybrid working model. It’s as close to the best of both worlds as any structure. Consider the plight of the creative in the workforce. Creativity is often forged in collaboration, which comes from being together, creating bonds, and workshopping ideas. But some of the best ideas come in the shower or on a run. The flexibility to move between both just might be the golden ticket.

Consider small businesses looking to offer a competitive edge. Flexibility is a real advantage. If you’re a massive company with an equally massive amount of cache, you might be able to get away with mandating an IRL return to office. At Monday Talent, we see our commitment to flexibility as hand-in-hand with our commitment for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Without the limitations of a full time commuting schedule, our talent pool widens drastically.

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Setting up new employees in a flexible work environment, regardless of their socioeconomic standing or the space they choose to work from outside of the office, is crucial. For someone new to their career, maybe living with roommates or family, there are certain tools that can make working from home feel more sustainable. These are the two trends we’re embracing to make this transition into work easier.

The first is a home office stipend, allowing the new employee to spend on whatever matches their working style, whether that’s a standing desk, a monitor, or even a colorful keyboard. The second is offering membership to a shared office space so that the employee has access to a hot desk.

If we’ve learned anything, it’s that it’s all uncharted territory. As the pandemic evolves and our relationships to work continue to undergo change, it’ll be interesting to watch how the way we work changes, too. As humans, we tend to default to what we know best or what we’ve done previously. We’re predictable in that way. There’s certainly a movement to go back into the office that feels reminiscent of this innate response. But we’ve gotten used to flexibility. There’s the silver lining of more fulfilled lives without the trappings of corporate life—like a long commute or wasted hours spent in meetings.

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The question of what happens next is an ongoing debate. Here’s what we know for sure: Flexibility will remain a cornerstone of work. The hybrid model will continue to be the norm for most businesses. And the phrase “return to office” will continue to hold as many meanings as there are relationships to work itself.


Jamie McLaughlin is the CEO of Monday Talent.

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