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Returning to the office can be intense

‘Going back to the workplace surrounded by colleagues and noise can be a radical change But use the experiences from working at home, because it is a unique opportunity to create a better and more flexible working life together’, says working life researcher Malene Friis Andersen.

27. Apr 2021
4 min
Af Johannes Nørgård

Denmark is gradually opening up. So are the offices. More and more people are coming in to the workstation, the fixed routines, rules and customised meal breaks. It is thus also a farewell to the free working life, where between tasks you could just do a load of laundry, bake a cake with your children or go for a run and then do the last things in the evening. It will be a radical change for everyone, but how we experience it will be wildly different, says Malene Friis Andersen, who is a job satisfaction and working life researcher at the National Research Centre for Work Environment:

‘Working from home is a double-edged sword. On the extreme ends, some people will be wildly excited to get back to the workplace. They may have had a hard time taking breaks. Or they found that work and free time blurred together and missed a fixed framework. For others, it will be an intense experience with the sudden noise in an open-plan office, different temperatures and concern for infection’.

Have the important conversation

Therefore, according to Malene Friis Andersen, it is incredibly important that one of the first things colleagues and managers do is have an open conversation about how everyone has each experienced working from home, what was good and bad:

‘Be curious about how it went for others. We are often inclined to believe that everyone else has had the same experiences as ourselves, but this is far from the case. You have to listen, allow room and be respectful’, she says.

She refers to a major interview survey she has just conducted of more than 100 employees and managers in a project to uncover the mental consequences during the shutdown. This showed there may be good habits from working from home that can be used in the workplace if they are on the table:

‘For example, someone said how nice it was to be able to go for a walk during the day - and it was actually an option at the workplace before the corona crisis, but the person had never done it, because then what would their colleagues think’.

We have to be trained again

As a manager, you can also do a lot to facilitate employees returning to the workplace, so that the work community will get going again smoothly:

‘It is a good idea for you as a manager to be open to a gradual escalation and are ready to make some agreements in terms of the individual’s needs. Some may just need that walk, others a room for quiet contemplation, and others may need full or half days working from home at first’, says Malene Friis Andersen.

It is also important that you as a manager have an increased focus on job satisfaction and perhaps take the initiative for some social activities to get the employees together again. Especially because in many places, you have also gotten new employees along the way who no one knows. Finally, as an employee, you can also do something yourself to prepare for the new situation:

‘For most people, it will be a demanding transition. We just have to be trained again. Therefore, you shouldn’t be alarmed if you go home more tired at first. It’s completely natural. One piece of advice here might be that during that period, you avoid making a lot of commitments in your private life, so you have some peace to recuperate’.

We can create the working life of the future now

This is the first time ever that we in Denmark have been in a situation where workplaces have been more or less shut down for long periods. Both managers and employees have gained a lot of experience about what works and what does not work online and from a distance at home and the price in terms of social community. Therefore, Malene Friis Andersen sees it as an incredibly exciting period that the most visionary companies can take advantage of:

‘Many companies are already thinking about being able to save square metres by continuing to give employees the option of working from home. It remains to be seen whether it is too early to make such radical decisions. But it will at least be relevant to have a conversation about the atmosphere of open-plan offices in terms of noise and the spread of infection, so that we use what we have learned from the corona pandemic. We simply have to insist that this is in every way a unique opportunity for a conversation about how we accommodate differences and create the right compromises for a better and more flexible working life that extends into the future’.