Together again: returning to “normal” in the post-pandemic office

Two professionals wearing masks talking at a desk in a UB office.

Published April 25, 2022

The office is not the same place it was before 2020. To some of us, the old routine doesn’t feel quite the same. To find our way to a new workplace culture that works for everyone, we may all need to re-examine some of our assumptions about in-person work.


After UB abruptly switched to emergency remote operation in March 2020, we started asking our staff about the quality of their remote work experience. Many of them told us they were comfortable working from home. But for others, the conditions weren’t ideal: technology issues, disruptions and—most commonly—a desire to reconnect with coworkers in person.

Now that UB’s employees are back on campus, we can reconnect with one another, and share in the benefits of a dedicated space for work. At the same time, that comforting sense of normalcy still seems elusive.  

What can we do as individuals to encourage a return to normalcy (or something like it)? This has been the subject of deep conversations with many of my colleagues in recent months. Here are some of the things they’ve found make for a more welcoming and functional environment for everyone.

Respect shared spaces (and personal ones too)

The matter of office cleanliness used to be relatively trivial. But in the face of a pandemic, a shared space that is clean—especially one that is disinfected regularly—can be a welcome relief to those of us who are (rightly) concerned with the spread of disease.  

Being cognizant of the space we share is critical. This extends to personal spaces within our shared workspace too. Before “stopping in” to a colleagues’ cubical or work area, consider making a call or sending an email to ask if it’s okay first. Even though face-to-face interactions are welcomed by many, this small consideration is a simple act of respect that may make your coworkers more comfortable.  

If you’re sick, stay home

This feels like common sense today, but the culture of the workplace didn’t always encourage erring on the side of caution making the deciding to stay home with an illness.

After nearly two years spent being vigilant about spreading disease, that culture is changing. We are all, as individuals and culturally, more hesitant to spread germs and careful to monitor our own symptoms.

Many of us are also more preoccupied with the threat of illness at work. Just as we owe it to our workers to keep our shared spaces clean, so too should we prioritize personal health and hygiene in the office.  

So, if you’re not feeling well and you’re undecided about whether to stay home… stay home. It may not always be convenient, but it is the right thing to do, and your coworkers will appreciate the peace of mind it brings.  

These tips aren’t the prescription for a healthy workplace. Rather, they’re the first turns in a conversation about finding the way forward, to reclaim the power of a shared working experience while acknowledging that things still don’t quite feel “normal.”

Transitions are always difficult, this transition more than most. There may be an extra degree of effort required by each of us to get used to doing the same old things in a new way. But it’ll be worth it if we can recapture the old spirit of collaboration and connection, if in a new, more flexible way.

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