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Returning to the office requires more than project management

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Support your people with a Change Plan that aligns goals and operations to their needs

Over the past year, you have solved many unprecedented challenges.  You have remained flexible while shifting your working models, earned new business, and supported customers in innovative ways.  You are using technology differently and have activated entirely virtual work environments.

If that weren’t impressive enough, you have done all of this while considering how you’ll continue supporting your employees through this time of uncertainty and change.  Now, with glimmers of normalcy on the horizon, it is time to plan your strategy for transitioning back to the office and the familiar, pre-2020 ways of working.

Unfortunately, there is no way back to where we started.  Our businesses and teams have changed. Individuals come with new expectations and realities.  It’s best to operate from the position that everyone in your organization has genuine concerns about what returning to the office means.

Accepting this reality is critical as you set goals for your company’s return to the office.  While you responded quickly at the start of the pandemic, now is the time to act deliberately.  Your plans must include the standard phases, options, and contingencies of any strong project plan.  However, including a change plan will elevate the impact of your actions.

A project plan answers the what, when, and how of the transition back to the office, a change plan speaks to who and why.  In other words, a change plan embeds activities that account for the whole employee experience, including addressing individual motivations and questions.

Your return to office change plan should contain four key elements:

  1. Cross-company representation
    Returning to the office is a multi-dimensional challenge that requires multi-dimensional solutions.  Don’t stop at including only facilities or health and safety teams.  Engage a wide range of leaders from HR, operations, business units, and IT.  Partner across the organization and include activities in the change plan that establish strategies and set policies.
  2. Communications
    The idea of returning to the office provokes uncertainty and anxiety.  Communications are a critical tool in building employee confidence.  Your messaging should foster awareness that there is a plan to support team members’ concerns and practical places to go for questions and support.  Communications can’t be one line in the plan.  Instead, include broad activities that classify audiences, identify messages and timing, and build communication channels.
  3. Training
    You have asked employees to work differently through the last year.  As they return to the office, they should expect to work in new ways.  Training may include health and safety protocols, updated methods for managing and measuring progress, guidelines for adjusting processes, and practical strategies that can assist teams in learning to work in hybrid environments.  Whatever the challenge, training will bridge the gap between the past and new expectations.
  4. Feedback mechanisms
    Returning to the office is as uncharted as the transition out of the office.  Remaining connected to how employees are doing, adjusting, and what they need is critical to ongoing success.  An effective change plan includes detailed feedback mechanisms that keep a pulse on the organization and ensure that communications are two-way.  Returning to the office won’t be a once and done activity.  Like any transition, it will take time.  Monitoring results and making mid-course corrections will ensure success.

Your team is craving leadership more than ever.  Make it clear in your communications that employee concerns are a priority.  It’s natural for people to feel uncertain with so much change coming at them.  Becoming more resilient by learning to adapt to change can be the best thing that ever happened to your organization.  All you need is a change plan that effectively aligns your strategy to your operations in a way that supports your people.

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