The most considerable risk of 2021? The return to the workplace

The most considerable risk of 2021? The return to the workplace

01 May 2021
Gerrit Sarens
Gerrit Sarens
  • It’s all about changing habits (again)

  • In the spring of 2020, we had to switch to home working. Undoubtedly this was very stressful for many people, mainly because we had to adapt our habits overnight. It is against nature. Changing habits typically goes slowly.

    Fourteen months later, we are used to this new way of working and living. We have all discovered the advantages of not having the pressure of being at the office from 9 to 5 anymore:

    • No more traffic jams (!)
    • Sleeping longer
    • More time for breakfast
    • Bringing the kids to school
    • A walk with the dog during the day
    • Lunch on the terrace
    • A run between two calls
    • Shopping when it’s quiet in the supermarket
    • Apero at 5 PM
    • I am sure you can add some more to this list

    Another challenge pops up on the horizon: returning to the workplace, in other words, changing our habits again.

    The good thing is that it will be less drastic compared to last year. We can manage our time.

  • Proactivity is the key. We have two pieces of advice

  • Advice 1:
    Start talking about the topic now. How does your team feel about returning to the workplace? Figure out who can’t wait to go back to the office, and who is less enthusiastic. For the latter group: connect with these people individually and figure out why they are not.

    The fact that they like their new habits (see above) has underlying reasons:

    • They were dissatisfied with their work/life balance pre-covid (this applies to many people)
    • They like to be more in control of their agenda
    • They are more productive when there is less distraction from colleagues
    • They do not feel 100% comfortable with the team (which explains why they like to be isolated from the group)
    • They have problems with their management
    • They may not feel 100% OK with the job they are doing (content of the job, location of the company,…)
    • ...

    Advice 2:
    Start working on a clear post-covid policy about office work.

    • Engage employees by asking for their input and be prepared to adjust policies as needed.
    • Involve clients as well, primarily when your employees work at the client’s site.
    • Make sure that people can still benefit from the home working advantages that they value the most (e.g., not driving to work during rush hour, a more extended lunch break, go for a run between 2 meetings,…).
    • Set the right expectations. People have to know what is expected post-covid. It allows them to start preparing for new habits.
    • Ensure it’s clear for what kind of occasions people have to be in the office
    • Create predictability (fixed days at the office).

Struggles of a manager

Managers are

  • not or inadequately trained in this role


    • lack self-confidence
    • don’t know how to go from being a colleague to being a boss
    • need to loosen up on the command & control leadership style
    • must let go of the (technical) expert status
    • cannot give or accept constructive feedback
    • feel pressure to perform as manager
    • have difficulty building relationships
    • want to be liked by everyone or want to be the ‘bad boss’
    • play the hero
  • are struggling


    • stay too involved in operations
    • have trouble prioritizing
    • cannot delegate
    • fear conflict situations
    • disconnect from the team
    • deal with flawed strategic thinking
    • do not relate to higher management
    • lack clear communication skills
    • remain not self-aware
    • avoid difficult conversations
    • miss political antennas
    • ...
  • capable of more


    • need mental preparation as successor
    • need to be able to lead big changes ahead
    • need to learn to be emotionally resilient and in control
    • need to learn to make big decisions fast without all the information
    • must become persuasive presenters
    • need to learn how to cultivate their own personal brand
    • need to learn how to lead by example
    • manage by trust, not by fear
    • need to overly develop empathy
    • ...
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