Is it time to go back to the office?

When I moved into my new home last year, I made the conscious decision not to have a home office. The primary reason was I wanted to ensure that I separated my time between life and work. As a consequence, I was suddenly unprepared to work from home when COVID-19 shut down the world.  Fortunately for me, I’m a marketer, I can literally work from anywhere as long as I have wi-fi and a laptop or smartphone.

I also work in the world of digital marketing, where platforms literally change every single day, and as a result, you could say that change is second nature to me.  So, I rolled with it and set up a shop at home.  My thoughtful husband even helped me pick out a rolling desk so that I could work in whatever room I felt like for the day. 

Since Kentucky has been shut down my behavior has changed to adapt to this strange new way of pandemic life.  I have shopped only online, ventured to the (deserted) post office exactly once, made videos in the great wide open with no one around, and taken a single car ride with my husband to pick up a customer check from my office mailbox (I’m saving a TON on my gas budget – how ‘bout you?)  

You may feel that the lifestyle outlined above is particularly restricted, and perhaps you are wondering why.  The answer is simple: my Mom.  She lives behind me and I am her caretaker. So, in order to keep her safe, I have stayed safe. 

This brings me to a conversation that has been unfolding between my ears since May 4th. Indiana, the state which is home to my physical office, opened up on that date, preempting Kentucky’s opening by seven days and, had I wished, I could have gone into my office almost 3 weeks ago.  And, truth be told, I missed my office 

I missed many things…most especially the solitude that is created when no family or dogs interrupt, requiring me to get up and close the door that repeatedly seems to magically open by itself no matter HOW many times I get up and close it.  My office is only for me. It fits exactly two desks and was custom-designed to my aesthetic taste right before the pandemic shutdown. I also love the fellow users of the coworking space downstairs and find that I am attracted to the community that gathers there.

As much as I missed all of this, I knew I was not ready to rush out into the world after staying in for over two months.  Still, I knew I couldn’t stay inside forever.  None of us can.  To find the right approach I decided that each day I would ask myself, “am I ready to play by the new rules and do it safely?”  And so far the answer had been a clear “no”. 

Fast forward to today…after my morning routine of prayer and meditation, I again asked the same question, and this time the answer was “yes”. 

Perhaps the aforementioned client’s check waiting in my office mailbox served as a catalyst, but I know it wasn’t just that.  I had finally reached a place internally that was calm, ready, and able to accept this new world we must navigate as business owners.

Why do I tell you this story?  As a business owner, I know many of you are working through the same impossible decision, and I see you.  You are all finding different paths through this.  Some of you are following the guidelines given by the state and carrying on.  Some of you feel your business is over, so what’s the use?  And some of you pivoted and changed immediately, allowing you to work from anywhere.

 No matter which description fits you the best, I wanted to give you four things you can do for your mental and marketing health so that you can thrive through this challenging period of transition: 

Be honest with your patients or customers: We are all going through a challenging and uncertain transition. Yet, many businesses are trying to ignore that it’s happening. When you work with people the best thing you can do is connect with them where they are. That doesn’t mean you have to reveal every deep dark secret or fear you have around COVID, but if you are feeling it, then your patients and customers are too, and they will trust you more if you speak to them on that level.

Ask questions: Your customers will be truthful with you.  Ask them how they feel about your opening. If they are not comfortable returning in person, or if YOU are not ready to do so, then communicate and ask how you can best serve them.

Don’t feel pressured: If you are ready to jump in and get back to work, great!  If you are not quite feeling the level of confidence you once did, that’s great too. Whether your customers and patients are ready or not, they are correct and know what is right. Each individual has to make the decision that is best for them. I was ready, as long as I followed recommended guidelines, but I won’t be seeing customers in person anytime soon, because there is no need, and I won’t be hanging out downstairs, as much as I miss connecting with my co-working colleagues. For now, I will be enjoying the peace and quiet of my office. 

A pivot doesn’t mean throwing out the baby with the bathwater: When looking up the word “pivot”, I liked the basketball definition from thesaurus.com the best, “A movement in which the player holding the ball may move in any direction with one foot while keeping the other (the pivot foot) in contact with the floor at all times.” For businesses, it means to keep one foot true to what you do and have always done! Use the other foot to probe and explore in order to figure out how best to advance your business without losing touch with who you are and what you do. So many people think pivoting means following what they think the current need is, instead of simply, yet creatively, shift the nuances of what they have always done to fit the need.  

Stay true to who you are, what your business is, and what your patients and customers have to come to expect from you.  As endless as this episode has felt, it will pass sooner than you think, and when it does you don’t want to have morphed into a person or a business you no longer recognize.

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