While organizations pat themselves on the back for their ability to shift to a virtual mode for COVID, they seem to be forgetting that the relationships that had been created when many of these people worked together was part of their organizational value. It is this investment in building of work teams and individuals that allowed and enabled people to start working reasonably seamlessly from home. This value, the relationship capital, could be rapidly depleted as retirements, turnover and new hires change the workforce; it is being eroded the longer people live without the physical connection with their work colleagues.
To what degree is there a high level of naivety present when leadership reflects on their “success” of remote working and decides to now downsize their office building and continue with a large portion of the workforce working remotely? For many, returning to the workplace and enduring “the commute” once again will probably hasten any major life change decisions. For those having limited options there may even be some level of resentment at being “forced” back to work. The building of relationships is something that goes on in the background, often while work is being performed, and often not as a result of that work itself. Relationships build through social contact, stories, and shared experiences. The expectation that removing this by having people work remotely and expecting sustained higher productivity might be a false hope.
While work place flexibility was a growing challenge before COVID, this might now be further demanded in order to respond to the experiences developed away from the office. While some may feel there is "little time to spend on socializing" and that focused work effort is the highest priority now that things are "back to normal" it would be a mistake not to allow people to "re-bond" and swap stories so that these valuable relationships can be nurtured and re-built.