Back to Business: The (Actual) Office

The days of working from home forever are over.

I am really excited about getting back into the office, even if it’s only for a few days a week.  That’s the general sentiment I hear from most of my corporate co-workers and friends at other companies.  We’ve all missed the personal interactions.  It sounds like the majority of us (corporate folks) are going back in some sort of hybrid model.

Personally, I’m not big on the hybrid models.  Specifically the “you need to be in the office two days a week” hybrid model, which seems to be the popular choice by most companies.  I’m bearish because it skews the denominator.  Before the pandemic, we were all in the office, with a ‘work from home Friday’ every once in a while.  We all played by those rules.  Once we were all sent home, we all applied the same denominator of working from home, so ALL meetings and interactions were virtual.  A hybrid model doesn’t have a denominator.  Some people are in sometimes, and the in-person interactions suffer because of the inconsistency.  I could be wrong – I hope I am, but I can’t see the hybrid model working long term.

Thinking about going back into the office makes me question the environment.  I’m not a minimalist, but I never really looked at my office as a place of comfort or style.  All things considered, I want to change that.  I want to make the hours I spend at work a little more enjoyable.  To do that, I’m going to personalize the space (a little).  Not overly so – I’m not moving in, but I want it to have a sense of peace and style that reflects my personality.

In terms of equipment, I’m planning on having the same screen/laptop/keyboard/mouse setup at the office as I do at home.  I’m a multi-screen guy, and utilize the camera on my laptop.  That should be same in both places.  It’ll make things a lot easier from a functionality standpoint.

As for office ‘stuff’, I’m planning on adding a few things that will make my standardized, industrial desk a little more palatable.  I’m also going to get a little bit utilitarian.  Short of packing a sack lunch and a thermos, I will be preparing in case the common coffee and the cafeteria aren’t user friendly.  Here are a few ideas:

From top left:

Colonel Littleton Can Caddy: I’m planning on using something nice to hold my pens and scissors.
Colonel Littleton No. 120 Valet Tray: I have one of these at home, and it’s the PERFECT size for my desk.  I can throw almost anything in it and it looks organized (because the tray is so cool).
Clorox Wipes: I’m not a clean freak, but I do want to start this practice, if only to keep my family and me healthy.  I’ll say this: our kids didn’t miss a single day of school last year (at 1 and 3 years old) because they kept the place so clean.  I’m all for it.
Propel Packets: I drink a lot of water, but sometimes I want to add a little flavor…with this:
Nalgene Water Bottle: Call me old school, but I love these bottles.  My general practice is fill this up with half of a Propel packet and it’s just right.
Yeti 26 oz Bottle: Remember when workers used to bring a thermos of coffee with them to work?  I’m not sure what the ‘community’ coffee situation is going to be like in the office, so I’m packing my own heat.

As for visual appeal, I’m going to bring in a few more updated framed photographs for my desk and shelves.  That should give my office a little personality.  As for the walls, I’m not going to install wood paneling and governer’s moulding…but I do want to hang a few pieces of art that I enjoy.  Here are some ideas:

From top left:

Dirk Walker Art: He has quite a few options, but I’m a huge fan of his upland art.
Masters Menu from Plaid Columns: These prices won’t change.
Oyster Map from New World Cartography: A GREAT conversation starter.
Georgia Golf Ball from Golf Ball Gallery: Golf and college football allegiance in one piece?  CHECK.

In terms of carrying stuff to and from the office, I think I’m going to need something a little bigger than my Filson 256.  I have a tan Blind Bag from Ball and Buck that I might use, or an old navy zip tote from Jack Spade that I might try.  Another good option is a backpack.  Not great if you are wearing a sport coat, but the function is hard to beat.  Here are two that I really like:

From the Left:

Topo Designs Daypack: The adult version of the old Jansports we used to carry.  Built with a TON of functionality and good space, it’s a nice option as a simple daily driver.
Mission Mercantile Campaign Waxed Canvas Backpack:  A little more space, and a more rugged style, this option from Mission Mercantile is fantastic if you are planning on doing any traveling.  There’s a ton of functionality built in, and enough room for all your goodies and a change of clothes.

Bottom line is that the disruption of going back to the office is going to be tough on everyone.  There isn’t a perfect formula, and it’s going to take some time to get it right.  Try to have a good attitude and be flexible.

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12 Comments

  1. MRS
    06/23/2021 / 7:41 AM

    Nice post. I am skeptical of the hybrid model as well. I’ve been back almost every day since getting my shots, but on average we have less than 25% of our law firm’s people here on a daily basis. We’ve said come back 3 days a week, minimum, starting in August but I don’t think that is going to cut it. Looking forward to the “dressing for return to office” post.

  2. PDB
    06/23/2021 / 8:14 AM

    Very timely post for me. My office hasn’t officially re-opened yet, but I’ve started going in a few days a week for a change of pace/scenery and, frankly, a quieter environment than the home office allows for. My company utilized a bit of hybrid model pretty successfully pre-Covid so I anticipate post-Covid life will be pretty much the same.

    Additionally, I finally graduated from the cube farm to an office and I’ve been thinking about how to show a little personality without going over the top. You gave me a a few ideas to start from.

    Cheers

  3. RBS
    06/23/2021 / 8:31 AM

    Our team has been home since February 2020 (we suspect an early outbreak of COVID). We are comprised mostly of recent college grads, so any return to the office is going to require adjustment. We are going with a hybrid model like you outlined, and I am skeptical as well. As an old-school, drive-to-work kind of guy, I gave up and returned full-time a couple of weeks ago. It has done wonders for my productivity and overall mental health.

    I also started bringing a new-school thermos (Hydroflask) full of java because the office coffee sitch had disappeared after 15 months.

  4. NEM
    06/23/2021 / 8:47 AM

    Great post, and I’m glad you’re getting back to normal in ATL. I’ve been back in the office full-time since March, but with distancing and mask protocols, webex meetings, etc. Since June 1 we’ve eliminated the mask mandate for those who are vaccinated and choose not to wear one. So, by most accounts we are back to normal and have been for some time. Traditional banking/finance office environment, in fact, after making a mid-covid industry change. During the remote part of the Covid I was in my home office and loved it. But it did get a little old. I’m happy to be back. What’s more, my unit shifted locations and we are in a new office suite.

    For my new space I have some old original art that once hung in the board room and I appreciate its maritime forest vibes. I found an old map of the city from the 1830’s and I’ve framed and hung it behind me so it shows up in video chats. I also added a 5 x 7 Persian style rug from Ruggable and let me tell you it is great..

    I like that Col. Littleton valet tray but they are a little proud of it I see. Before covid I picked up a Topo Designs briefcase to replace my Filson padded computer bag (big flap on top hard to manage on-the-go, and when loaded it won’t stand up), the blue with brown leather bottom like the napsack pictured above, and I really like it. Good call.

  5. Nacho
    06/23/2021 / 9:18 AM

    I’m DVP at a Global 50 company. I think hybrid is here to stay for my company. We’ve been reducing real estate footprint prior to the ‘vid and we were already reorganizing offices around shared spaces/hoteling desks etc. This is just a logical extension of that, and we’ve set division wide schedules as to what the in-office expectation is. The only hiccup I’ve seen is with our intern program, that’s going to need to be re-tweaked because 2 years of virtual interning isn’t the best experience for these kids.

    With hoteling workspaces and travel to HQ, I’ve picked up a few things. Based on the recommendations from Michael Williams @ ACL, I picked up a Purist insulated bottle with the “scope” top. Game. Changer. It’s thin enough to fit on the outside of my new Filson tote, and that top makes it so much easier to drink. I agree, my 257 isn’t cutting it anymore, so I picked up a tote from Filson’s Restoration department which gives me a ton of space to carry all the extras back and forth from the office.

  6. Trip
    06/23/2021 / 2:01 PM

    I feel bad for so many people that are still remote or doing some hybrid garbage. We went back to the office in May 2020, no masks. Guess what? No one died. It’s been great, and definitely helped life feel like it was returning to normal pretty quickly.

  7. JW
    06/23/2021 / 2:31 PM

    We’ve been back in office for over a year. No outbreaks. Nobody got sick. Hybrid will be done by the end of 2021. Welcome back to normal.

  8. CCE
    06/23/2021 / 9:13 PM

    Back in the office for a month now and it as been great. While working from home I made sure to spend at least two days a week in full office dress (suit/ sportcoat/ dress slacks) to motivate myself to stay in shape and keep sharp. It’s a great feeling to wake up, finish my morning routine, and look forward to going somewhere.
    I think it’s even better now for the junior associates because our company (finally) dismantled the open concept and went with individual offices for more employees.

  9. JL
    06/23/2021 / 10:46 PM

    My experience is that the most impactful and tasteful way to dress up the office – is to have a medium to large sized, well-framed, original painting on the wall. Esp one that has a story or personal connection. Forget the diplomas and awards – all of that is on LinkedIn. The art will draw you into deeper conversations than souvenirs, diplomas, etc.

    10 years and it never fails to have the right kind of impact.

    • NEM
      06/24/2021 / 8:20 AM

      Wholeheartedly agree with this!

  10. Doug
    06/24/2021 / 8:56 AM

    We never really shut our office down (Indiana), but was spending 90% of my time at home. Moved to about 50/50 now and moved offices at work a few weeks ago and got much more intentional about what is in it starting with the walls and then will move to the desk itself. Also made the switch from an old Tumi backpack to a Filson tote. Just feels better walking into the office with the Tote. Putting some of the kids art/crafts into nicer mats+frames to add a family touch to everything.

  11. CB
    06/27/2021 / 10:13 AM

    I may be the outlier, but I’ve enjoyed WFH and do not want to go back to the office full time. The biggest thing for me is the lack of a commute. I live in a medium/large city out west (with awful public transit), so I have to commute to my downtown office. There are few things worse than spending an hour in stop and go traffic, five days a week. If you work in front of a computer and phone most of the day, there is no point in driving to an office. Without a commute, I’m happier and more relaxed, I can spend more time with my family, the dogs are happier, and I can wear shorts and a polo when its 95 degrees outside instead of slacks and a dress shirt.

    The pandemic has put things into perspective for many of us. Life is short, so we should be spending as much time as possible with those we love and doing things we are passionate about. WFH allows us to do that. I don’t see many younger workers ever wanting to go back to a full time office job that requires you to be there 5 days a week. Especially not after we’ve had a taste of the freedom of WFH.

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