41402371 - businesswoman presenting to colleagues at a meetingWhat can we expect office life to be after the pandemic? While the world we worked in pre-Covid may not be the the normal that re-emerges, executives can create a new work world that will keep employees happy and productive, say Harvard Business School faculty members in Working Knowledge in March 2021.

Several of their insights are as follows:

Julia Austin suggests managers plan ahead to make the most of days in the office. While people might be anxious to return to work physically, especially for the social interactions, that return will be a big change. “Zoom fatigue” has forced many to adjust their meeting times. Austin says she has seen teams shorten long, regularly scheduled meetings, “and their meetings have become more efficient.”

Michael Beers emphasizes the importance of having honest conversations with employees. He suggests focusing the conversation on the questions that matter and says to make it safe to share the whole truth.

Beers says to reflect, diagnose and develop a plan of action to determine what policies and practices should be in place for the post-Covid world and to share with your senior team what you learn. You should share it all—”the good, the bad, and the ugly.”

Prithwiraj (Raj) Choudhury says it’s important to design hybrid-remote work arrangements that also allow for geographic flexibility and “work-from-anywhere.” Choudhury suggests a hybrid approach. Employees can work remotely but then come together in person for team meetings. Another thing to remember is that social interaction is still important. Choudhury suggests “virtual watercoolers” to help encourage social interactions even from remote locations.

Boris Groysberg reminds us to show compassion amid the stress. He observes that “unlike in pre-pandemic times, when only a handful of employees at any given moment might have significant personal stressors impacting their work, as we transition back to a new routine post-pandemic, virtually all employees will likely have personal challenges competing for their energy and attention.”

He says leaders should also be kind to themselves and continue to manage a more stressful life, both at work and home. “Acknowledge this, and seek out the support you need to promote your own mental wellness,” Groysberg said.

Gary P. Pisano suggests making work inspiring, in the office or not. “Pre-Covid, we commonly used the phrase ‘going to the office’ to mean a physical act. If you went away, you put an ‘away from the office’ message on your email. The past year has changed how we define the office. It’s no longer specifically a physical place. The office now means a state of working.”

What will your office life look like as you embrace the “next normal” of doing business?