Managing the Return-to-Office Transition

Our offices are filling back up! Many of us are leaving remote work behind and heading back to the office. How do we go from working from home to being back in the workplace? We’ve assembled our top tips for managing the transition.

Many of us have spent the last year working remotely. We’ve finetuned our working-from-home routines, creating functional home setups, learning new technologies, and adapting to virtual collaboration.

But as we begin to emerge from the pandemic’s shadow, we’re looking forward to transitioning back to the office. With our excitement, comes wariness. We’ve settled into our “new normal” and returning to the office will be a significant change. It’s important to acknowledge that change and take the time to prepare for the transition. To make it as seamless as possible, we’re sharing our Top Six Return-to-Work Tips:

1. Be Prepared.

While our pre-return to-do lists are surely long, our first tip (and top priority) is all mental! Getting yourself in the right headspace to embrace change will look different for everyone. Carve out time to mentally prepare. First, acknowledge that yes, this is going to be a big transition, then do your best to take control, get prepared, and shift your mindset to minimize any possible return to office anxieties.

A big piece of being prepared is getting the basics right. What equipment did you borrow from the office that you’ll need to bring back? Do you need to order anything to maintain your at-home office? While hybrid models are sure to live on for a bit, equip both your at-home workstation and office desk for success.

And be sure to start thinking about logistics like how you’re going to get to work! Whether you decide to drive, bike, walk, ferry, or bus, each requires reacquainting yourself with a commute. If you’re depending on public transit, be sure to check for updated schedules – don’t rely on your old pickup times. In many cases transit schedules have changed due to lack of demand, so be sure you have the correct information to plan your route. And don’t forget to update your commute playlist!

2. Plan (Fun!) Face-to-Face Reunions.

It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to be face-to-face with our coworkers. Make sure that your reunions don’t only happen in meeting rooms. Plan in-person lunches with your mentor group (which doubles as a great way to support struggling local eateries), invite that coworker you haven’t seen in ages out to grab a coffee, or get together after-hours to reunite. or get together after-hours to reunite. As we welcome summer, it’s the perfect time for small, outdoor group gatherings too! Pictured: Civil Engineer Katlyn Christenson and Structural Technician Katya Finegold enjoying an open water swim together.

In addition to specialized tasks forces, our team is formed into several mentor groups that regularly gather to discuss everything from project to personal shares. Having these groups in place prior to the pandemic proved both emotionally and professionally important during an isolated 2020. Developing this comradery among a diverse group of colleagues helped many of us bridge the gap to what became our new normal this past year and a half. Whatever you decide to do – prioritize reconnecting with people in person. And be patient with one another! Many of us haven’t been in a crowd for a while.

3. Get Familiar with New Protocols.

Before returning to the office, take time to review and understand the protocols your company has in place. Even if your company hasn’t published something official, there’s sure to be information available. And if there’s not, ask! Most leadership and/or HR teams have assembled guidelines to maintain a safe workplace. Reviewing these new procedures prior to returning to the office will ensure employee safety and make the transition back easier on everyone.

What should you expect? Beyond office mask mandates, expect limits on how many attendees can be in a conference room together and how you’re expected to sign in and out for the day. Additionally, be sure to check client policies before heading to site visits or other offices.

Coughlin Porter Lundeen created a COVID-19 Handbook. We recommend that, if possible, your team creates something similar. Organizing everything into once place will help answer questions, keep employees informed, and even calm nerves about returning to work.

4. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!

Everyone’s circumstances are different, and this working-from-home chapter has certainly shifted opinions of the five-day, in-office work week. If the idea of jumping right back into a full week sounds daunting – you’re not alone!,  Fifty-four percent of American employees want to keep working remotely after the pandemic.

If you’re counting yourself in this category, overwhelmed by the demands in and out of the office, our advice is simple: communicate! Talk to your manager about your ideal return-to-work/work-from-home plan. Don’t assume flexibility isn’t an option. Many offices will be offering hybrid models. The pandemic and restrictions have made leadership and HR teams more agile, familiar with evaluating and re-evaluating policies and protocols. At our own office, we’re planning to allow hybrid schedules for an interim transition period, and will continually reassess, adopting models that make sense for a longer-term approach.

So, present what you need to be successful and work together to find realistic solutions. Your managers and HR team are in place to help you!

5. Marry Old with the New.

Transitioning to a fully remote workforce required lots of ingenuity and refreshed processes. We were tasked with answering questions like: How do we keep our team in touch? How do we collaborate with large teams virtually? How do we ensure our projects stay on track? It wasn’t easy, but (with the help of our in-house tech specialists, computer wizards, and creatives), we were able to find answers. The answers made us stretch, think differently, and reach for new solutions. As we return to the office and an environment that allows for in-person collaboration, we don’t want to leave our learnings behind!

Are there solutions, technologies, or trends that your team leveraged during the remote-work chapter? Instead of abandoning them and returning to the “same old,” evaluate which should be integrated into your refreshed approach. For example, game-changers for our team have been shared Bluebeam models and the adoption of Shared Coordinates in Revit and Rhino, allowing us to better communicate when virtual collaboration was the only option. We’ve also begun to explore Revizto, which consolidates BIM and CAD data to track issues in a centralized 3D environment. We’ve also leveraged Microsoft Teams to not only connect as an internal team, but to track project progress and keep work on track.

This is an opportunity to tap into your team. Is someone leading the charge on a new trend? Or is a project team leveraging a new process or technology? Celebrate their innovation by acknowledging their work, encouraging others to explore similar options, and even giving them a platform to present to the rest of the organization.

We’ve learned so much from this chapter, so let’s continue to employ and capitalize on these learnings to get the best of both worlds!

6. Think Positive.

While there are undoubtedly things we will miss about remote work, there are so many positives that come with being in the office. We’re looking forward to impromptu mentoring opportunities, chats in the office kitchen, finding inspiration looking over someone’s desk, collaborating in-person again, and stronger bonds with teammates. And on the technical side, we won’t miss connection issues and a calendar full of back-to-back-to-back online meetings.

Still not convinced? Try seeing your return-to-office day through a new lens. Remember how exciting the first day of school used to be? Treat your return to the office like the same, exciting fresh start. When was the last time you got a haircut? (We’re not judging your quarantine locks!) But a fresh cut, a carefully chosen outfit, or even a fresh crop of desk supplies can work wonders for your attitude.

Have more suggestions for creating a smooth back-to-office transition? Let us know! We’re looking forward to reuniting with you all and working together in-person again!