Adaptability in action: how to prepare for returning to the office

Masked man entering a shop

Six months ago, writing this blog in the Lane4 office (as I currently am) would not have been remarkable.

It is the first time that I have been inside this building for over four months, and I feel a mixture of excitement and apprehension as I look around. We officially reopened the office on 1st September and now my Lane4 colleagues and I can work in the office as often or as little as we like. After all this time, seeing familiar faces in familiar spaces is a delight, but one that just serves to drive home how much has changed.

The external cause of all this change is the same for everyone – COVID19 – but the emotional transitions that people have gone through, and are continuing to experience, will be unique to them.

Change and Transition

It feels like these two words have become more relevant than ever this year, but what’s the difference?

CHANGE is something that happens to people, even if they don’t agree with it. It is usually outside of an individual’s control and can happen very quickly. COVID19 is a world-shaking example – no one in January expected a global lockdown or the consequences of it, but here we all are with our normal routines overturned and no clear way back.

TRANSITION occurs as a result of a change. It is internal: the thoughts, feelings and emotions that people experience as they go through change. Transition can be a slow process, which is why rapid change is so hard to adapt to.

Adapting to COVID19

As the pandemic has rolled on, we’ve all been grappling with the question – are we in control of the change or is the change in control of us?

The answer to that depends on our adaptability, a soft skill that Lane4 research defines as “the ability to anticipate, adjust and evolve to be effective in your environment.”

Initially, everyone will have been at the mercy of events. But the most adaptable people will have quickly reformed their mindsets and behaviours in response to their new circumstances. Not only will this have helped reduce their stress levels (because they are not resisting the inevitable and expecting what they can no longer have), it will have made them more effective in their work and their personal lives.

For a lot of us at Lane4, and indeed many people across the country, the next big change to which we’ll need to adapt is the return to the office (and the emotional transition that comes with it). Even if it’s not going to be full-time, we need to prepare for this shift in our routine. What can we do to make this upcoming change feel good?

The five types of adaptability

Adaptability is not a single soft skill – in fact, there are five distinct types of adaptability. Each of these types help us to respond effectively to our environment and the unique circumstances we find ourselves in. I’ve been thinking about them in relation to returning to the office:

Lifestyle adaptability – the ability to maintain long-term performance through your lifestyle choices

Lifestyle adaptability is about proactively supporting your mind and body. You need to recognise what is going to change in your routine, and how you can prioritise your wellbeing during this period. Tune in to what your body and mind need in terms of sleep, exercise, social activity, etc, and ensure these needs are reflected in your schedule, wherever you are working that day.

Creative adaptability – the ability to proactively learn and apply these learnings

It’s indisputable that the ‘new normal’ is going to be different. But our natural, psychological resistance to change can teach us something here: what is it about ‘the old normal’ that you really want to cling on to? It’s unlikely to be everything, so use this opportunity to identify what is important to you. What do you enjoy/gain from being in the office as opposed to working from home? Challenge yourself to think differently about how you can fulfil these needs going forwards.

Reactive adaptability – the ability to stay at your best despite challenges, pressure and setbacks

It’s important to spend time tuning into how you feel about the return to the office. Excited? Apprehensive? Frustrated? Scared? There will be such a range of emotions, and they’re likely to continually shift for people.

The slightly cheesy, but highly relevant phrase that comes to mind is ‘it’s ok to not be ok’. At times, these changes might feel overwhelming, at which stage it is important to recognise the impact this is having on you, take a deep breath, and focus on what you can control. Remember that transition can take time, but there are positive steps you can take to manage your emotions at these moments.

Social adaptability – the ability to adapt our attitudes and approach by listening, understanding and learning from others

What an opportunity for social adaptability in action! One of the real benefits of workplaces is their diversity: having different people with different experiences and backgrounds to challenge our assumptions, biases and decisions. Socially adaptable people recognise that, in order to derive the most benefit from their peers, they must seek the opinion of others and actively listen to the ideas and challenges they share.

Learning adaptability – the ability to proactively learn and apply what’s learned to new challenges

With the upcoming changes in mind, what can you be curious about now that will help you be more impactful in the short- and long-term future? Developing a growth mindset has been widely recognised as an important indicator of future success, and a key reason for this is the pace at which people are able to perform as changes occur. Someone with learning adaptability is always striving to remain one step ahead.

Developing adaptability

We will all have natural strengths and development areas in these types of adaptability; mine, from highest to lowest, are Creative – Reactive – Social – Learning – Lifestyle. However, adaptability is not a fixed trait and it can be developed. To learn more about how adaptability training can help you and your team feel more comfortable and in-control of the changes ahead, check out this short paper

Reflect on which of the five you think you most embody. If you want to explore your adaptability profile in more detail, speak to us about Adapt4.


Adapt4, a digital learning tool