It was the night before I was due back in the office, and the nerves were kicking in.
Our workplace had been closed for 18 months because of the pandemic. This would be the first time I'd see the place for real.
I'm 28 years old, but it felt like my first day at school. What should I wear? How long would it take me to get there? What if I didn't make any friends?
I'd hardly met any of my colleagues "in real life." How would it feel when we were suddenly in the same room?
The company had dubbed us "Pandemic Pioneers" – people from various departments who'd joined during the lockdowns, amid all our office closures. (That's me on the far left of the group photo above.) Our U.K. sites were just about to reopen, so we'd been invited in first, to meet our fellow new hires and get a feel for our company's physical "home."
When I arrived, coffee in hand, I was greeted by the masked faces of my colleagues. Some I'd spoken to via screens before, some I hadn't. There was the usual small talk – "Where do you live?", "What do you do?", "Isn't this weird?" – before we embarked on the schedule for the day.
We took an office tour and had a demo of the new desk-booking app. Then we tried out the tech that will help us collaborate with people who choose to continue working remotely. (Our company's new Flexible Working policy means that we can use the office when we want – or not at all.)
Lunch was a chance to get to know one another better, and we swapped stories about our experiences working from home. We talked about the advantages of being back in a shared workspace, as well as the readjustments we'd have to make after so long away.
Some things quickly felt normal – like chats with colleagues over coffee. But other things will take a bit of getting used to. The effort of getting to know "strangers" face-to-face again, for example.
Even though I have a desk in the office when I want it, I won't really be an "office worker" anymore. I'll still be working from home some days and occasionally even while on my travels. And when I am in the office, I'll continue to collaborate with people virtually, as well as across the desk. Everyone on my team will likely work remotely at least some of the time.
So a book like "The Long-Distance Teammate" should come in very handy as I settle into this new approach. It's the latest title from teamworking experts Kevin Eikenberry and Wayne Turmel. And it shows how remote, real-life, and hybrid teams can all stay connected and be effective.
The book does that by exploring what successful teamworking looks like in all its forms. So it's ideal for people like me who want to make the most of flexible working – and who might need help readjusting from an entirely virtual role.
My fellow first-timers also seemed glad to be leaving full-time remote working behind.
Client Partner Kevin Wadey (main image, far right) had been worried about settling into a new industry "… without the ability to have or overhear the normal day-to-day casual office exchanges you'd normally get in an office."
That made the option of returning to the office a very welcome one and he added, "That ability to have a 30-second chat with a colleague to share an idea or concern will be hugely beneficial."
For Programme Manager James Pritchard (main image, second from the right), it was also good to connect properly with the company – having already got to know lots of the people online. He said, "It's great to find social connections with pets, art or other things on view where they're working. But it's not until you go into an office and see how it's decorated, the layout, the furniture, the kitchen, that you get a true sense of the company you've joined."
It's also going to be interesting to see how our longer-serving people adapt to the new ways of working.
Managing Editor Keith Jackson spent six years at Emerald before the pandemic. He's just had his first day back in the office, and noticed a few changes – as well as some reassuring continuity.
He said, "It definitely felt like first day of school after a long summer holiday! The whole place was redesigned and reequipped during the lockdown, but enough of the character of the 'old' place remained to make it feel like a homecoming of sorts."
And why was he back? Keith said, "The main attraction of returning to the office was to work with colleagues face-to-face again. But only two of us turned up when I was in. Still, it meant I was able to hog the Spotify for the day!"
Keith is now planning a hybrid mix of home and office working. And Kevin Wadey's ready for that too. He said, "The prospect of an agile working environment is providing a great sense of balance for me."
It feels like our "pioneering" start has been a positive one overall. And "The Long-Distance Teammate" shares that spirit of hope, convinced that we can stay connected with others and be fully engaged with our roles wherever and however we're working.
But it will take effort. The authors say that mutual support and great communication will be more important now than ever. And we'll need to monitor our situation to make sure that it's working – for us and our team.
I'm confident that being back in the office some of the time will be good for my well-being and my productivity. I can also see where challenges will lie – like having to communicate my working patterns clearly and staying visible to my team.
But I'm hopeful that hybrid working will give us all a better work-life balance overall. If we get it right, my team and I can be more effective and happier than ever – regardless of where in the world we are.
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What's your working life going to be like from now on? In our recent poll on LinkedIn, 55 percent of you told us that you're still working from home, while 19 percent said that you are back in the office full-time. And 26 percent said they split their time between the two.
So how do you feel about your "new normal?" And what insights or ideas do you have for others? We'd love you to join the discussion, below.
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