After two years of pandemic, we all have things we wish for.
Credit: Christopher Furlong / Getty Images
March 15, 2022 7:01 AM EDT

Here. We. Go. Again.

Many companies are starting to call employees back into the office now that Covid rates are coming down. As we set up new systems and schedules, I asked workers what lessons, conditions, and elements they adopted during the pandemic they don’t want to lose in the rush to normalcy.

Their No. 1 response: Flexibility.

That tracks with a Prudential survey of workers, released last week, that found: “If employers provided more flexibility for workers to decide when they go into the worksite it would help alleviate some of the stress 53% of hybrid workers are already feeling.”

What do the workers I heard from wish their bosses, colleagues, and companies knew? Here are edited excerpts from dozens of interviews, conducted over email:

Give us time for our family, ourselves, our classes, and our avocations (like coaching sports).

“I am looking for the same autonomy and flexibility once I am back in the office that I have now. I have seen an improvement in the quality of my life and work since working remotely. I have integrated regularly scheduled workouts and time to chat with my family or take a course. I am more focused on the work I need to accomplish because I have had the freedom to take care of myself and my family without worrying about what someone might think about me being away from my desk. I haven’t missed a deadline or a beat and feel more confident and healthy than I have in a very long time.”

Kimberly Lee Minor, president/chief commercial officer at Bandier

“What I want tied to reopening is a hybrid workplace. For me, it is nice to have a quiet place to write code in the comfort of your home office, but there’s also something special about standing next to a team member brainstorming or designing at a white board. You can’t beat flexibility.”

—Cody Taylor, senior director, DevOps Enablement–IT, Dell Technologies

“Remote and hybrid work offers us the opportunity to change our lifestyles and work from destinations we never thought possible; beach towns, the countryside, a cabin in the woods. Workspaces must come to where the people want to be and function as so much more than just a workspace, but a lifestyle choice. A place to go not only for work, but to meet new people in your community with common interests, to form bonds with others through lifestyle activities.

Commuting to an office space everyday, five days a week, is an archaic model that has begun and will continue to die for many people.”

—Frederick Pikovsky, co-founder and CEO of Barnfox

“Our employees want the flexibility and time to explore their passions outside of their day-to-day roles. For example, one of our people volunteers as a cross-country coach every afternoon. She has the flexibility to choose her own hours and pay it forward everyday without feeling like she needs to hide it from her team or boss. In fact, her colleagues applaud her for this, and the company respects it and honors it.”

—DJ Paoni, president of SAP North America

Enough with the Zoom.

“I would like the default on meeting setups to go back to being conference calls. Even a 15-minute check-in is now on Zoom, and it’s unnecessary and exhausting. Video calls should be reserved for when it’s truly helpful to connect face to face, not be the default!”

—Morra Aarons-Mele, communications executive and host of the podcast The Anxious Achiever.

Stay home if you have to.

“I want people to keep staying home when they are sick. Let’s keep putting the health of others at the forefront of some of our decisions to go out.”

—Mason Luke, business owner

Keep innovating community space.

“I want abandoned buildings from businesses that didn’t make it to be revamped and used for good. Let’s turn them into apartments and help the homeless.”

—Heather Volk, Volk Industry Designs

Please stay compassionate.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what it would take for me to come back to work, and the thing at the top of my list would be flexibility. Maybe understanding is a better word. I want an employer that values their employees as much as they value the money the employees make them. I want employers to understand that employees are humans, with human lives and families, hurts and happys.”

—Jacki Mick, writer and podcaster

Please keep focusing on mental health.

“I’d like to see more employers take the mental health of their employees seriously by fostering a work culture that actively supports rest and self-care. I’d also like to see more employees advocate for themselves and prioritize their mental health over their work obligations as things begin to reopen. The last two years have really driven this home.”

—Raven Faber, founder and CEO of EngErotics

“At least once a month, I would like to know that my company supports me taking a wellness day off so that I can recharge. A day that’s not attached to my vacation or sick days. It’s a sign that they are empathic to my personal needs.”

—Marsha Guerrier, founder of HerSuiteSpot

Respect differences.

Masks have become such a political issue, and we forget that it’s okay for people to have different opinions and make different choices. Leadership can go a long way in saying things like, ‘While masks are now optional, people will make different choices going forwards, and the most important thing is that we are kind and respectful to each other about the choices we each make.’

We never know why someone is or isn’t wearing a mask, or who they are responsible for. Trying to get everyone to do exactly one thing in one way is a great way to tell people that differences of opinion aren’t welcome in your workspace.”

—Sarah K. Peck, founder and CEO of Startup Parent

While some employees may be eager to return to in-person events, others may be hesitant and/or remain concerned about their safety. It is important to remember that individuals will experience reopening and return to normality at their own pace. As such, it is important for employers to demonstrate patience with their employees and to find ways to support employees as they return to work at a pace that fits their needs.”

Rachel O’Neill, VP, Clinical & Quality at Talkspace

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