It’s been two years. The return to the office is finally done : NPR


Heidi Brooks, a senior lecturer in organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management, points to the chair she thinks someone stole from her on-campus office. Turns out she’s been sitting on it for two years while working from home.

Valerie Little


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Valerie Little

It's been two years. The return to the office is finally done : NPR

Heidi Brooks, a senior lecturer in organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management, points to the chair she thinks someone stole from her on-campus office. Turns out she’s been sitting on it for two years while working from home.

Valerie Little

Heidi Brooks, a senior lecturer at the Yale School of Management, was thrilled last week to teach in person for the first time in two years.

But the trip to campus for the two-hour Everyday Leadership course took up much of her day, and not because of her commute.

“I had to go to my office, I had to walk across campus. I had to find a parking situation. ‘Where’s my office, anyway?'” she thought.

And then on arrival, the worst: his office chair had disappeared. Who had taken it?

Turns out she had. He was sitting in his home office.

Long-delayed return-to-office plans are finally being implemented

According to a Gallup survey, 26% of full-time workers were still working exclusively from home in December 2021.

Almost two years into the pandemic, some of these workers are finally returning, at least a few days a week. Companies whose previous worker return plans were rejected by delta and omicron are now announcing new return-to-office dates. For example:

  • Microsoft announces it will fully reopen facilities in Washington state and the San Francisco Bay Area on February 28 and expects employees to “adopt the work preferences they have agreed to with their managers” within 30 days.
  • The Social Security Administration aims to reopen its customer service offices in late March.
  • Ford says its campuses will welcome on-site corporate team members again in April.
  • Wells Fargo announced a flexible hybrid model starting March 14, with most employees coming in three days a week.

But the workplaces employees return to won’t be the same ones they left two years ago, says Brooks, who also works as a consultant on workplace issues. Workflows have changed. Expectations have changed. Your team is probably different from what it looked like two years ago.

“What does it mean to be part of a team if I’ve never met them before? And what does it mean to have a shared experience?” she asks.

It's been two years. The return to the office is finally done : NPR

Wells Fargo announced that employees who have been working remotely for nearly two years will return to the office on March 14, 2022, on a flexible hybrid schedule.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images


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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

It's been two years. The return to the office is finally done : NPR

Wells Fargo announced that employees who have been working remotely for nearly two years will return to the office on March 14, 2022, on a flexible hybrid schedule.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Returning to the office means bringing back the commute and human interaction

For Lesley Gantt, who works in brand marketing for Wells Fargo, returning to the office means returning for a commute several times a week. But it’s a sacrifice she’s happy to make for what she’ll get in return: physically seeing people.

“You arrive in the morning, and you pick up your best friend from work and go get coffee and get ready for the day,” she says.

But from there, the day can feel very different from the past. Wells Fargo employees will no longer have assigned desks. They have been replaced by “neighborhoods” of offices and offices with rotating residents, depending on who comes and what days.

“It’s going to be a huge learning curve, you just have to get used to this openness,” says Gantt.

Still, Gantt knows the transition will be easier for her than for others. She has no children. She doesn’t have a pet at home who is used to having her all day. Her husband, who will continue to work from home, is delighted to have the whole house to himself.

Additionally, during the pandemic, she moved from Charlotte, North Carolina to Greenville, South Carolina to be closer to her mother. It’s a five-minute drive from his new home to Wells Fargo’s Greenville offices.

She acknowledges that it is not so easy for everyone.

“It would be naïve to say that everyone is going to be excited,” says Gantt. “It’s human nature. Nothing is 100%, everyone is on board.”

She is grateful that Wells Fargo, among many employers, is giving workers the option to continue working remotely on a part-time basis.

The everyday office experience can feel unfamiliar

For many remote workers, productivity has skyrocketed during the pandemic. People no longer had to spend time commuting to work or even meetings.

“The pandemic just underlined that we could basically work all the time,” says Brooks.

Productivity expectations may need to be reset as workers relearn how to do basic things, including how to interact with each other.

“We have to remember how to get back to what we thought was our everyday experience, but it doesn’t feel so familiar anymore,” Brooks says.

As workers return to the office, Brooks hopes companies will take the time to periodically check in on workers and make their well-being a top priority, even after the public health crisis subsides.

“It’s the perfect time. We’re coming back. We’re changing. We’re changing. We’re hoping to learn,” Brooks said. “I think maybe we could go back to a better office than we had before.”


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