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Planning a Return to the Office? Don't Forget to Do This One Thing

May 05, 2021 Employee Experience
Laurence Hart
By Laurence Hart

The biggest question in the workplace these days seems to be, “When will we return to the office?” I hear this from colleagues, friends and people across every industry. Everyone has a different opinion and equally different response as to what form the return to the office will take.

What's missing from these discussions however are the viewpoints of rank and file workers. Executives and senior leaders all have opinions driven by long-standing habits, guided by their HR departments. Organizations need to take the time to speak with the employees performing your organization’s mission to learn what a return to work looks like to them.

Did Working From Home Cause Issues?

It's impossible to predict on a case by case basis if someone will want to continue working from home. Talk to 10 different people and you'll get 10 different answers about their preferred work setup and 10 different rationales why. So before you tell people to start planning their return to the office, you need to determine why they need to return.

Has there been a downturn in productivity? Have certain aspects of work suffered? If you cannot provide multiple examples of each, maybe you don't need to return to the office. Empty real estate is no reason to bring people back to the office.

If you do identify examples, discuss them with your team members. Most team members will recognize legitimate issues. Talk to them about what the team needs to do to improve — and don't assume the answer is spending multiple days in the office each week. It may be as simple as upgrading your collaboration tool.

Related Article: Are We Going Back to the Office or Not?

Not Every Team Will Be the Same

Keep in mind that not every team is the same. Some teams have people who work independently. Some have complex problems that need rich, in-person collaboration to address. Some teams are more interactive and need that high-level engagement to be effective.

Identify each team’s preferences and needs and classify them. Maybe only a few teams need to return to the office full time. Other teams may only need to come in two or three times a week. Some teams may only need once every week or so, if at all. Map out each team’s requirements and determine how your offices can support those different schedules.

Related Article: Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Salesforce Lead the Charge Back to the Workplace

Build Guidelines for a Blended Approach

Having managed and worked with distributed teams throughout my career, I can tell you one thing that you absolutely will need: a schedule. Knowing when  colleagues will be in the office, when they will be in their home office and everywhere in between is key.

Do you need to schedule a strategy or design discussion? Look at the schedule and pick a day when everyone will already be in the office together. Knowing people’s schedules removes a lot of unnecessary friction.

Another concern is office space. Different employees have different office needs. Salespeople need a chair, desk and unlimited coffee. Developers need more specialized setups that include multiple screens, a white board and more coffee.  Create different types of floating workspaces to support the different types of work needs. Additionally, if someone decides to work in the office regularly, make it possible for them to have dedicated space.

Above all, make sure everything is transparently managed and tracked. That is a feature of the new normal that you cannot live without.

Related Article: The Future of Office Design Post-COVID

Opportunities Abound for Employees

Today is a good day to ask employees how they feel about the return to the office. With their feedback in hand, you can start to plan what your office will look like when working from home is not a safety requirement. While remote work will continue for a few more months, parents are going to want make plans for the next school year soon. Having open and frank conversations will be critical in helping your people prepare for the next step.

Whatever you do, do not make a policy decision without input from your people. That’s the wrong approach, especially if your decision is to return to the way things were pre-COVID. People have changed. One thing the last year made clear was that businesses will not collapse if people work remotely. Organizations need to identify the balance that works for each team.

Take the time to find that balance or your people will find an organization that has embraced remote work as a permanent part of the new normal.

About the Author

Laurence Hart is a director of consulting services at CGI Federal, with a focus on leading digital transformation efforts that drive his clients’ success. A proven leader in content management and information governance, Laurence has over two decades of experience solving the challenges organizations face as they implement and deploy information solutions.

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