Burnout. Isolation. Exhaustion. Lack of passion for the purpose of the business. Every day is another headline about how the pandemic-induced remote work environment has decimated once vibrant corporate cultures.
Still, employees are comfortable working remotely, with 76% not wanting to return to the office. And after two years of remote productivity, it makes sense (and the experts tell us) that we can’t expect people to go back to pre-pandemic conditions. But being productive and being efficient, energized and fulfilled are not the same thing.
This work-from-home experience also led to a 30% increase in loneliness and isolation, as real interactions were replaced by screens. We miss the in-person social interactions that we know improve mental health and are the most consistent predictor of a healthy, happy life. At work, these vital interactions create a collaborative environment that boosts productivity.
Not to mention how screens spoil our eyes. Not just in the sense that you need glasses, but our eyes aren’t actually designed for such a tunnel vision experience. In an in-person setting, our eyes move around, looking at the wall or our colleagues, to pick up multiple peripheral images at once. When they stare at a computer screen, they are frozen in place, resulting in a sense of exhaustion due to the lack of visual disruption.
So, in the current state of remote work, it is not sustainable for employee health and company culture. Work will never be what it was. It is now necessary to find a rhythm that allows flexibility and cultivates a strong corporate culture.
But where do we go from here? As leaders, it’s hard to know where the first step is in rebuilding a thriving workforce. I see that many of my teammates are exhausted, and yet the reality is that we cannot stop or stand still in the face of the onslaught of business pressures and daily deliverables.
When you think back to your best work experience before the pandemic, what comes to mind? I’m willing to bet it involves the fun dynamics of teamwork – the laughs that come with shared times in a boardroom, lunch with a colleague, basketball after work, or even team karaoke. .
Science tells us that these moments of real human interaction are the best antidote to feelings of burnout and isolation. And if you’re guided by the science of human performance, then you know that a return to social connections, team building and fun is the best way to develop thriving individuals and cultures – and that’s the path to follow.
But that doesn’t mean workers are going back to the office. Think about your own history with office work. I remember those pre-pandemic years of emotional Sunday nights. It was the inevitable transition from freedom to watchmaking, constrained by alarms and train timetables. All in all, it was a negative emotional experience that reoccurred every week.
Next, think about what it’s like to go on vacation. Waking up to an early alarm is no longer negative as you anticipate the thrill of a flight to your version of paradise.
Now, what if we could make office days the fun part of the week, with some pre-holiday level cheer? The most satisfying part of the job doesn’t have to be the freedom of home, with the office being the grind zone.
This new way of working and thinking is upon us. Instead of giving in to the mountain of articles telling us that the next generation is shunning office time, it’s up to us to make the in-person experience everything it should be – exciting, fulfilling and precious. The health and happiness of our employees depend on it.
So when thinking about your future of work strategy, start by being intentional about your office scheduling. Beyond the obvious brainstorming and collaboration sessions, how can you create fun extracurricular activities that build trust and connection?
It will be necessary to invest in new activities and to model the time spent in the office. If you’re a leader who comes with nonstop one-on-one meetings that have you running out, you can be sure your teammates will interpret this as the desk to check the face-to-face box. .
If you balance meetings while prioritizing the lunchtime bowling team, chances are your teammates will do the same. And the benefits for all will be deeper friendships, corporate connections, and ultimately reduced burnout. Although we don’t know much about the new norms that will shape the future of work, we have the opportunity as leaders to shape them. Let’s work hard and play hard, but most importantly, prioritize how we do it together.
As they say in my workplace, greatness is a team sport.