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An extravert’s journey from #teamoffice to appreciating the hybrid life

RAPP’s Katy Dunn highlights the importance of a flexible approach to the changing nature of the office

Katy Dunn, RAPP

Strategy Partner

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I’m one of those rare people who couldn’t wait to get back to the office after lockdown.

Yes, I’m an extravert. So adapting to home working after 15 years of office-based life was a real shock to the system. Along with many practical concerns – Whose turn is it to take the spare room? What do you eat for lunch when there’s no Itsu? How can you hit 10,000 steps when it only takes 15 to reach your desk? – I had to adjust to a life without all the external stimulation and social interaction which keep me energised.

Fast forward 18 months… At RAPP, we’d been working towards a hybrid return to work, culminating in our own Freshers Week in September. So throughout the summer, I’d monitored these plans hungrily, excited to get back.

I very much believed that, once I could, I would go back to the office as much as possible. Because, as an extravert, I need to be around people to do a great job. Don’t I?

Week one arrived, and I went to the office twice. On both days I saw colleagues I have missed, met our not-so-new starters, and finally got my Itsu lunch. Aside from that, however, I had two very different experiences.

Tuesday was productive, fun, high energy. I finished the day with drinks in our work local, excited about the future. Wednesday, on the other hand, saw me leaving Southwark feeling dejected, exhausted and unproductive. Not exactly the best start to the rekindling of my romance with the office – if it had been a second date, I’m not sure I would have gone on another.

As I planned the following week it dawned on me that I was looking for ways to limit my office time. When I reflected on the two very different days, I quickly realised why.

Tuesday was a workshop day planning the future of our department. It was discursive, energetic and, most importantly, critical to do in person. Wednesday, however, was allocated to calls and a presentation I needed to write. A head down task which I did in a dark corner of the office as the colleagues I'd gone in to be close to did their own thing. I ate lunch alone at my desk and felt sorry for myself.

The problem was that I had returned to Bankside with a romanticised view of the office of old, drummed into me by decades of not questioning how we work.

The office, to me, equalled atmosphere, new things to see, people to chat with about the latest TV show. As a result, I had really elevated my expectation of what “being” back would be like, thinking of the office as a place that met all the desires of my extraversion by just existing.

This version of the office simply doesn’t exist anymore. Partly this is because capacity is limited and the space has been reconfigured in a way that limits the buzzy atmosphere.

But it’s also, I realise now, because the office is merely a shell; a casing for the brilliance within it. Over the past year, we have been productive without it and people have continued to flourish. The office isn’t the star; we are.

So I’m adjusting my expectations and planning my weeks accordingly, mindful of the need for flexibility as the cadence of life changes.

Our industry is made up of creative and passionate team players and it is important that some parts of creating brilliant work are done together now that we can once again.

These are the moments in which in-person collaboration is key; where we challenge each other whilst displaying the body language which says we still respect each other, when we workshop ideas with physical Post-It notes on physical walls, when we inspire each other by doing creative briefings in weird and wonderful ways.

I’m planning my time so that these in-person happenings take place on fewer days, and I am factoring in chatting time and lunches with people with as much priority as the formal meetings.

The office – once the darling of my social and working life – is now just a small part of my existence. I will always be an extravert but I’ve become comfortable with this quieter, more balanced new normal. My value is not linked to how visible I am but how well I support my teams, and our work, wherever we are. 

I’ll always prefer seeing my colleagues and clients in 3D. But I now also appreciate that their 2D versions give me all the energy I need to do a great job.

Guest Author

Katy Dunn, RAPP

Strategy Partner

About

Katy is a global Customer Engagement, CRM and Loyalty expert, skilled in using data and insight to build compelling customer experiences. After 11 years working across dunnhumby’s global client base, she ran the Customer Department at IAG Loyalty, and joined Omnicom in 2017. She now leads Strategy across RAPP’s Retail and Travel client portfolios.

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