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Why returning to office will be 10 times harder than the transition to working from home

When the pandemic hit last year and companies and schools of all types scrambled to get people set up to work and learn from home, almost nobody thought about moving everyone back to the office.

After all, the initial presumption was that this would be a short-term situation, and there was so much effort expended in making the transition outwards, that nobody gave a second thought to the process of coming back in.

Nearly a year and a half later, the reality of returning to workplaces and schools is staring millions of people and hundreds of thousands of organizations straight in the face – and it’s looking to be a significantly harder problem than anyone originally thought.

In fact, ironically, the more people I talk to, the more I read about it, and the more I think about, the more convinced I am that it is going to be harder than the transition to working from home. A lot harder.

► I don’t wanna go back:  40% of Americans prefer to continue working from home

And let’s not forget, that’s saying something. In the migration out of the office, many companies made herculean efforts to find PCs, set up remote access tools, reconfigure their applications, quickly migrate to cloud computing models and more to make sure people could get their jobs done.  To their collective credit, it was an incredible success. Sure, there were hiccups along the way, but initial fears of an economic collapse and worse were not only avoided, but the exercise actually led to increased productivity according to many different metrics.

Of course, it has also led to a lot of soul searching about how work (and learning) can and should be done, both from employers and employees. Additionally, it has led to some dramatic rethinking about the tools we need to get work done and how we can collaborate. Those old dreams and promises of technology enabling remote work were not so far off after all – at least in most situations.

The result is that virtually everyone seems to be embracing some sense of hybrid work models (with literally millions of variations), and come the day after Labor Day, a huge number of people and organizations are going to be entering another at least 18-month experiment in how exactly to make hybrid work, well, work.

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