As COVID vaccines are being administered to people all over, companies who closed their offices are now considering bringing their employees back to the office. Some, with this consideration, will decide not to return at all. For those that are coming back in some form, plans are being made. And while it is possible to just ‘return to the office’, it won’t be the same as before. We have been away long enough that returning is going to be yet another change for everyone. And – it is also an opportunity to re-evaluate and re-fresh how work is done vs. just re-turn to the previous practices and habits.
If you are considering and planning for a return to the office, the following are areas for re-evaluation and re-fresh:
- Off the Plate – it is so easy to add work to the plate. Not being in the office forced us to consider what work couldn’t be accomplished by remote working and much of that work has been put on hold. We should be thoughtful about just dumping it back on the plate. What, of that work, if we have lived without for the past year and can take it off the plate permanently? At a minimum, if it must go back on the plate – how can it be optimized so only what is needed is brought back?
- What’s New? – what has been learned that should be applied in the return to work? What new ways of delivering work have been adopted? What assumptions about people working remotely or what work can be done effectively via video conference have been challenged? We have adjusted and some of these adjustments work better than what we did before the pandemic. How can the adjustments be capitalized on so that those gains continue? For example, if client communication video calls were tried out as an alternative to email or phone calls – what happened? How did the client feel about the quality of the communication? Did they feel more listened to? Did they feel more understood? Continuing to use the video format could be a way to continue that positive response – even while back in an office.
- Performance Measures – in my younger corporate days, so much of my performance was measured by ‘butt in the seat’ time (number of hours per day my manager saw me in my office performing work). This measure limited many organizations in their willingness to consider allowing remote work. I would frequently hear, ‘How will I know that they are doing their job?’ Now I hear a lot of, ‘Gee – this isn’t so bad. I just had to adjust the performance measure.’ This is an adjustment that we should keep. The updated measures should focus on the ‘what’ that is expected vs. the ‘how’ by which it is accomplished – enabling organizations to continue being flexible with remote working options.
- Organizational Culture – with the uncertainty of the past year, trust in organizations has been tested, challenged, and damaged in some situations. This is a perfect time to re-visit the behavior norms and expectations for your organization so that existing trust can be built upon or re-built if damaged. Many behavior norms have been bridged over the past several years. With an organization that sees its future back in the office, it is a good time to decide how people are expected to treat each other. How are people going to listen to one another? How are people going to disagree with one another? How are people going to resolve conflict? Part of this evaluation must include exclusion and workplace belonging. How do you make the environment and culture more welcoming and more inclusive so that everyone feels that they belong? Once the behavior norms are determined, training in these norms needs to happen – before people return to being together. Doing this ahead of time enables people to have a choice in their return. With this new culture, is the organization still a fit for them? If it is a fit, you’ll have an engaged employee for the future. If it isn’t a fit, help them find a new fit with a different organization.
As plans are made for whatever size or shape of work return fits for your organization, don’t make this a return to yesteryear. How we worked before is gone and an opportunity to do things differently is on the table. Bobby Unser, race car driver, said, “Success is where preparation and opportunity meet.” Don’t leave the next phase of work to chance. Don’t settle for just a re-turn. Take the opportunity. Take forward what is working better, leave behind what didn’t work, and shape the culture towards the future of greater inclusivity and trust.