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Creating the moments that matter as we return to the office

 

As businesses and the Victorian public service return to the office, Infrastructure Victoria outlines its innovative approach to hybrid work which blends individual, team and organisational needs.   

For those required to work from home during the pandemic, a phased return to the office may feel a little…well…awkward.  

You may not initially recognise colleagues you’ve been working with for months, and could have sworn they appeared slightly differently online.  

Setting up the screen for a hybrid meeting and getting the technology working may require some troubleshooting. Additionally, adjusting to in-person problem solving (and the return of the classic – ‘do you have a moment?’) can take some getting used to. 

It’s no surprise that some of us are feeling a little rusty, particularly if you started a new job during the pandemic and have had limited opportunities to connect in-person. 

Brené Brown, a social researcher known for studying courage and vulnerability, has dubbed the return to the office The Great Awkward’. 

We know from our research at Infrastructure Victoria that the working from home trend is likely here to stay. We’ve modelled the impacts of a third of workers working from home 2 to 3 days a week by 2036 and how this might influence how Victorians live, work and commute over the medium to long-term.  

Our research shows that 70% of employees want flexible remote working options to continue, while 65% crave more in-person time with their colleagues.  

Businesses also expect more working from home under eased restrictions, with 76% of Australian managers expecting their staff would work from home more often after COVID-19, compared to before the pandemic.  

The results from our internal surveys mirror this. Our employees have valued the flexibility that remote working has afforded them and it’s something they want to maintain.   

But equally, there is a burning desire to experience the creative energy that comes with real-life collaboration. And people miss the vibrancy of the city, whether it be ducking out for lunch with the team, or those serendipitous encounters on the street with former colleagues.   

Interestingly, our modelling shows that Melbourne’s dominance as Victoria’s most important employment centre will be reinforced by more working from home in the longer term.  

In the next 15 years, hybrid work will fuel faster jobs growth in inner Melbourne than might have otherwise occurred as businesses continue to locate where they can access the largest workforce catchment, harness the benefits of being physically near each other and leverage existing transport networks.  

So how do we navigate this largely new domain of hybrid work? 

At Infrastructure Victoria, we’re piloting a hybrid model that’s been designed with intent. It’s called ‘Moments that matter’.   

These are professional or personal moments that have an impact on how we experience the organisation, and they influence productivity, culture, and wellbeing. They could be moments important to you as an individual, a team, or the organisation.  

The idea is that each employee pinpoints a rhythm that embraces these individual and shared ‘moments’ to strike a balance between working at home and in the office. For example, an individual moment that matters could be collecting your child from school a few times each week, studying or keeping up an exercise routine. 

For your team, it might be equally important to regularly meet in-person and create space for the moments you can’t plan for. And as an organisation, a moment that matters might be having everyone in the same room for team building and planning. 

Of course, there’s plenty of complexity here – how do we best support teams where there is a mismatch of moments that matter? For example, a colleague who prefers to work from home Thursdays and Fridays for family reasons, but the rest of the team wants to be in the office on those days?  

People leaders and team members have to navigate these situations carefully and with respect for everyone’s individual circumstances. 

Let’s not deny it – it’s going to be messy. None of us have done this before. There’s no rulebook on how to significantly reshape the workplace in the wake of a global pandemic and this is going to require some vulnerability, honesty and a continuous feedback loop. 

But the lofty goal is that we create an individualised and inclusive approach to a flexible hybrid workplace. This means the needs of the individual sit in harmony with the needs of the team and the organisation and importantly, everyone feels a sense of belonging, regardless of whether they’re working remotely or not.  

And, at Infrastructure Victoria, our strategy is to firstly normalise the awkward – including conversations about what works and doesn’t work for each of us. 

So it’s okay not to recognise your colleague when you haven’t seen them in-person for months (just don’t make the mistake twice).  

And when all your peers are laughing together in the boardroom and you’re at home feeling invisible, it’s okay to say; ‘This isn’t working for me, how can we do this better?’.  

It’s also critical to have a strong foundation for the values and behaviours that drive your organisational culture. Infrastructure Victoria developed our ‘Principles of working together’, to support our transition to a hybrid working environment (see image below).  

It gives us a framework to fall back on when we need to have frank conversations, and acts as a litmus test for how we design our hybrid work practices.  

Lastly, we’ll be listening deeply to our employees to better understand their experience and see where we can do better.  

So, as you’re considering your own approach to a return to the office, in the words of Brené Brown, stay brave, stay kind, and you guessed it…embrace the awkward. 

For more on the short and longer term impacts of working from home, check out our research on The post pandemic commute 

 

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