Is going back to the office really worth it?

December 15, 2022
Employees at SEP working from the office.

Travel back in time with me to November 2021…

SEP executives felt that we do our best work together, in person. We had a date set – December 6, 2021. The opening of our new headquarters in Westfield, IN. This was happening. After almost two years of working from home, we are returning to the office.

I’ll admit it, I felt torn. Pragmatically I knew this was best for SEP and its employees, but personally, I was scared. I was a completely different person after the experience of working from home… and, I wasn’t even aware of what had changed (yet). 

I agreed to come back, taking what felt like one of the biggest leaps I’ve ever made. Or perhaps a better way to say that is I dusted off a ladder, peeked my head above ground, and made a plan to climb out of my protective bubble.

And, I couldn’t help but think…

  • I’m already stressed with WFH, and now this big behavior change?
  • What about all this extra family time I’ve become accustomed to?
  • What about these awesome lunches and quiet time I get to spend with my husband?
  • What about all this flexibility I have in my schedule?
  • What if this change makes everything worse?
  • How was I going to merge the old me with the new me? 
  • On and on and on… the worry engine in my brain just kept going…

But then a small part of my mind opened up and asked the question… Yeah all this, but what will you gain?

A year later…

Have you ever wanted to go back to a former version of yourself and just say… “Stop it. Just stop.” Well, that’s me now. Shaking my head at the version of myself who was unconsciously unaware that I needed this change so desperately.

All those wonderings, those were worries. They were resulting from coping mechanisms I had formed during the pandemic/WFH that my brain was trying so damn hard to protect. Those coping mechanisms became normalized patterns that I would fist-fight someone to preserve.

It wasn’t easy – all this change. I had previous mental models of working in an office prior to the pandemic and these newly formed truths of working from home during the pandemic. None of them married up. Nothing made sense once I was around people again. Y’all, I cannot even watch a movie on TV anymore that has a crowd gathered without thinking to myself… “You should all be wearing masks!”

So, learning from the newly-formed relationship with myself I developed over the pandemic, I gave myself and everyone else… grace. And lots of it. None of us were comfortable. Everyone needed time to figure this out. We all needed to relearn what we needed from a workplace. 

Things I found:

  • A drive to and from work…. huzzah! I’ve needed this so badly. TIME TO MYSELF. I would end work at 5 pm, walk 10 steps to the kitchen, and suddenly feel behind the game with family stuff. This drive home is my time. To disconnect, to transition, to put the connections in the neural network that needed to form with some uninterrupted processing time. And, it’s also my professional development time. Oh, podcasts and audiobooks… how I missed you.
  • I’m a better version of myself when I’m with my family. My mind is not split into two when we’re together. Work is work time, and family is family time. Whoever I am with is getting the best version of me now.
  • I actually have more time, not less. By organizing my time to have purposeful work and intention, I’m able to do more of the things I’d like to do.
  • Flexibility. It’s funny how the mind tells stories to you. We’ve always had flexibility in our schedule at SEP. I forgot about it. I can be home when my son is sick. I can work from home when I’m expecting a delivery. I stay home when I’m not well. Because this company cares that I function as a whole human being.
  • Sight-lines. I am a learn-by-watching person. When I was working from home I felt like every time a Zoom call ended, a window slammed shut. I saw our team’s interactions in meetings that I was in but never saw the interactions between those windows of time. Now in the office where we are physically near one another, having impromptu conversations, sharing out content, challenging one another’s thinking, celebrating successes, and building our design community within the walls – the information is flowing again. I can use all these insights and data to better direct our design practice.
  • Recognition of growth… Looking back on everything that happened during work from home… my goodness. The ups, downs, lefts, rights, and upside downs. You name it, I rolled with it. I figured it out. Living above ground now, I can see how stressful and limiting life felt during that time. And I can acknowledge to myself the survivalist mindset I developed AND needed, to endure it. I’ve thanked it, and chosen a different mindset from here on out.
  • And most of all, I gained back connection, community, place, purpose, and stability. Humans are hard-wired for connection. Our executive team made the best call – for all of us.

What I’ve Learned

I learned a whole lot while working from home. I learned how to prioritize myself and my family. I learned what my limits are. I learned how to speak up. I learned my values.

I came out of the work-from-home era thinking this is definitely NOT the great resignation… This is the great value realignment. I learned to stop doing a thing on autopilot and to choose to do the thing that matters.

Turns out that climbing out to the surface and coming back to work from the office was hard – actually, really hard. But unbelievably worth it. And I’d never go back.