Americans Return to the Office With Willingness and Trepidation
As cases of coronavirus continue to decline in the United States, many businesses have told their employees it’s time to return to the office.
Some people are already doing the daily grind, while others are splitting their time between home and the office as part of a hybrid plan.
The office routine was normal for millions of Americans before the pandemic. Now, some two years later, it is regarded as a new normal, after those employees worked full-time from their residences.
Morning Consult, a global business intelligence company, has been polling U.S. consumers about returning to the workplace.
Charlotte Principato, a financial services analyst for the organization, said the latest poll showed 73% of remote workers felt comfortable returning to the office. The remaining 27% wanted to remain at home where, they said, they work more efficiently.
“The return to the office is experienced differently depending on each person’s situation,” and introverts may have a harder time getting used to it than extroverts, said Debra Kaplan, a therapist in Tucson, Arizona.
She told VOA many people will experience stress adjusting to an office environment after working from home.
Mark Gerald, a psychoanalyst in New York, likens it to a child going to school for the first time.
There’s almost childlike anxiety that’s related to change and fears of going into the world, he said.
The fears include contracting the coronavirus, as well as being away from family during the workday.
That’s true for Imani Harris, a federal government employee in Washington who has two young children.
“I wear a mask at work because I don’t feel safe being at the office,” she said. “I’d rather be at home because I accomplish more, and get to spend quality time with the kids — plus it’s harder financially since I have to spend money on child care.”
Another drawback is exhaustion.
“At first, returning to the office can be really draining because you haven’t seen the people you work with in person for a long time,” said Karestan Koenen, a psychiatric epidemiology professor at Harvard University’s School of Public Health.
“Psychologically and emotionally, the transition is not comfortable but should eventually become more comfortable as time goes on,” she added.
Still, many workers favor a hybrid approach in which they work more at home than in the office.
“We tend to see that younger folks are more likely to want a hybrid environment where they feel they’re more productive and have more flexibility and control,” Principato said.
They also don’t think their jobs need to be done in the office and want to work in a way that feels better for them, Kaplan said.
For Ethan Carson, who is in his 20s and works for a technology firm in Falls Church, Virginia, going to his office “is more of a bother” than working from home. “I don’t need to be in my building to do my job,” he said, “and the commute is difficult with the horrible traffic.”
Other employees, however, think it’s easier for them to get their job done around their peers than at home, where there may be more distractions.
For some, the office makes them feel they are part of a community again.
“There is a hunger for human connection and sometimes the human touch,” Gerald said.
“People have realized that socializing is helpful for their mental health,” Kaplan said. “They often feel positive about seeing their colleagues,” talking to them face-to-face, and not just on Zoom, she explained.
Angela Morgensen, a communications consultant in Bethesda, Maryland, is relieved to be back at the office.
“I’m enjoying talking to the people I work with and feel more like I’m part of the company again,” she said. “I used to hate meetings, but I’m finding it stimulating to share ideas.”
Gerald points out that the pandemic has made people think more about a better work-life balance, including how many hours they want to spend in the office.
“They are not returning as the same person they were before the pandemic happened. Some wonder, ‘Is this job fulfilling and the workplace a good environment for me?'”
And that’s reflected in seeing hybrid work becoming more of the norm, he said.