Returning to the office and the new reality


4 Considerations for your return to office strategy

A lot has changed throughout the pandemic.  Our workers, more than ever, are thinking about what they want their work environment to be and how that might be different from where they were a year ago.  Companies are doing the same thing.  While they quickly responded to the crisis by standing up entire remote organizations, now they are thinking about how to come back to a new reality where safety, employee engagement, hybrid environments, and policy-setting are top of mind.

Finding a path forward requires a critical acknowledgment: Your employees aren’t the same employees they were when this all began.  They think about work differently and have different expectations.  While now more than ever, there are reasons for optimism as we hear news of declining cases and rising vaccinations, the best path forward is still unclear — especially since there is no path directly back to the way things were.

As you continue to think through the right return to office model for your organization, consider four things:

  1. Be Methodic:
    You are likely under significant pressure to define policies and make decisions.  A year ago, you moved quickly – activating a remote workforce in what felt like warp-speed.  Now is not the time to proceed with this speed.  Gather more information and leave options open if possible.  Health and safety trends are constantly shifting.  Avoid making promises you cannot keep or policies you cannot reconsider.
  2. Apply a multi-faceted approach to this multi-faceted challenge: 
    The way back to the office isn’t as simple as logistics and facilities, sanitizer, and spacing.  Now more than ever, we are forced to look at the entire picture of our employee’s experience.  Doing so requires an approach that will likely engage all areas of your organization. Leaders must define policies.  HR must look at compensation and benefits.  Operations must look at modifying processes, performance management, and expectation setting.  IT must look at new systems to support updated models and methods.  Facilities must look at floor plans and employee flow…  And the list goes on.  Engaging each of these organizations is the only way to get your employees back to a new way of working.
  3. Remain Nimble: 
    Being methodical does not mean that you can’t remain nimble.  Neither data and health recommendations are set in stone, nor should your plan be inflexible.  Consider ways that you can shift your response quickly, as required.  Implement communication channels that can quickly alert impacted parties of a changing approach.  Create a plan D, E, and F for plans A, B, and C.  It requires extraordinary effort to consider all scenarios, but it is necessary in a landscape like this.  Do not be tempted to set a path in stone and then simply move forward with purpose.  Remember, there is no path directly back to the way things were. 
  4. Accept that things will look different: 
    We just said it, but it is worth saying again.  There is no way to go back to how things were.  Your employees aren’t the same people they were before all this began.  Even “Steady Susan” and “Reliable Ralph” are looking at the world and their work experiences differently.  They may want different things and have different expectations.

We don’t encourage, and you won’t be expected to solve each individual’s situation uniquely.  However, the anticipated end of the pandemic carries with it a realization that only new models can address these new challenges.  Your new model will be different from the business down the street, but with thoughtful planning and a commitment to your people, a successful transition is possible.

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