If your business has not already communicated some sense of direction or roadmap for returning to the workplace, be aware your people will be crying out for clarity.

Will I be expected to go into the office every day? How will I make that work? Could I carry on working from home? The uncertainty and worry about change (as much as we might also be desperate for some change!) can be distracting and debilitating.

Some companies have already communicated that they will be taking a complete “flexi-working” approach, where people can choose where they work.

Others have confirmed that there is more expectation of being in the office with a “hybrid working” approach, asking each team to determine how many days each week people would be at home versus in the office. We have not yet heard of anyone suggesting a full return to “every day in the office,” but of course for many of those in frontline positions like retail and manufacturing, there is no other option.

Have we underestimated how hard it will be for people to return to the workplace?

The highlight of my week, a trip to the hairdresser, was a stark reminder of how tough the week of April 12th was for so many. 3-4 months off work, then all of a sudden a full week of being on their feet, smiling, serving customers, pent-up demand making it feel like the Christmas period in retail. Many in the salon talked about feeling physically and mentally exhausted and overwhelmed.

A client took her first trip into the office last week and with the commute and the long hours of being “on” – due to there being no break away from people, left her feeling absolutely drained.

At least at home when the phone rings we can choose not to answer it, but when someone walks over to our desk? When we feel we must hold out posture better, because we are in an open plan office and slouching in the chair like we would on the sofa is not quite sending the right message?!

This is more taxing for us than being at home.

Whilst it’s one thing to be waiting for a message from the top about the roadmap or plans for returning to the workplace, every people manager can start having some useful conversations with people 1:1. Here are some useful questions to consider for you, and to explore with your team…

What would your commute look like now?

Let’s not assume it would be the same as before, as maybe someone feels less comfortable on public transport, or maybe their childcare arrangements have changed in the 12-18 months from leaving the office to returning. How long would the commute take and how could you make that work?

What benefits could there be to you being in the office?

There is a fair bit of talk of FOMO at the moment, with an understandable concern that people working from home will feel they are missing out on office banter, sharing of stories, decision-making and career opportunities by not being visible in the office.

These are valid concerns too, as we know one of our unconscious biases is “distance bias” – the tendency to assume more positive things about people who are closer to us in time and space. Consider as well the improved collaboration and silo-breaking that can happen face-to-face.

What benefits could there be to you working from home?

If we don’t spend all day on video calls, can we get more focus, write those reports, consider those strategic plans we need more time for? Could we plan it out so that office time is collaboration and home time is focused thinking, creativity on a walk and desk work?

Now that you have worked from home for a while, what could we do to make your setup even better? Is there any furniture / technology that would make the space a better work environment? What about changes you could make to your home or childcare arrangements or boundaries with family / housemates / others? What could help you shape a workplace at home that would work better for you?

What would work best for us as a team?

Give our purpose, the nature of our work, how we get on and where we need to collaborate, what would be the best set up for us? Do we need weekly time together? Daily check-ins? Or are we each of us in the team rather independent and a monthly meeting in the office might be all we need?

The balance as always is in finding what works for the business objectives and finding what works for each individual. There cannot be any hard and fast rules for that, we’ll need to work it out with each business, each team, each individudual, so get started on these crucial conversations.