Back to the office continues...
Drink: Homemade mimosa
Pairing: A homemade mimosa with fresh-squeezed orange juice is perfect for employees whose leaders are requiring them to come back to the office. Non-alcoholic option: Sanpellegrino Aranciata
Are you sick of this debate yet? Are your leaders making bets on if your company's return to office mandate is going to fail? For the majority of my career I've worked in hybrid environments and coached/consulted for people leading in hybrid environments.
Executives across the country are continuing to want, or make, their employees return to the office. The problem? They are taking a profit-first approach rather than a people-first approach, and experiencing backlash. Simply put, for many employees, the benefits of being in the office are not as important to them as the benefits of flexible, remote work.
The Real Talk
Both in-person and virtual work can be effective based on the nature of the work that needs to be accomplished, the skills of employees, the support the employer provides, and cultural expectations of how work gets done. You can find research and anecdotes to justify it any which way. Both in-person and virtual work are necessary for most businesses to be able to do well.
Many companies have used remote or hybrid work successfully for years. Today, the way leaders are trying to bring employees back to an office is not resonating. It's not rocket science why. CEOs and employees have very different motivations, incentives and cultural experiences. Even if they theoretically share a set of company values, they are operationalized very differently. Here are some things to consider while you sip your homemade mimosas.
1) Leaders, know why you're making the shift. This should not be about you and what you think worked 20 years ago. What work actually needs to be done in person? Most executives and senior leaders are going to be too far removed from how the day-to-day work gets done to know what's effective now. What data do you have to back up your stance? Return to office requires more than compliance, it requires strategy.
2) Provide resources, not ping pong tables. Don't ask employees to return to an office if you have not invested in setting up a work environment that maximizes in-person relationships, collaboration and productivity. When companies transitioned TO work from home, companies provided resources. Don't expect your employees to personally bear the burden of returning for you. Assume their lives and expectations have changed.
3) Ask your employees what they want. Managers - have you gotten to know how your employees work? What makes them successful at home, in hybrid environments, or in an office? If you are going to transition, start with what works for them and test it out before making it a requirement. Learn what would add value to their lives regarding coming into the office and re-think your benefits. Remember, your power and rank will influence the conversation, so build trust and psychological safety in advance.
4) Create a reasonable transition timeline. Many people changed their lives significantly during the pandemic. Have you considered the financial cost of the transition, as well as the hit on productivity, engagement, top performer retention, etc.? If you want to avoid change shock, take the time necessary to transition. What you're asking folks to do is not just change their desk... it's changing their entire lives. That's a big ask, especially if you haven't created enough "what's in it for me."
5) Remember, employee diversity makes a big difference in the impact of returning to the office. How are you going to mitigate different populations experiencing a negative impact that affects their morale, engagement and productivity?
6) Is this really about leadership? Great managers and strong leaders drive productivity and engagement. Belonging, loyalty, commitment and feeling supported aren't about sitting next to each other. Have your leaders taken time to reinvest their teams in the company's mission? Can your leaders inspire, empathize, give/receive meaningful feedback, foster inclusion and help their teams feel connected to something bigger than themselves no matter where they are? Butts in seats won't solve for mediocre management.
7) Think bigger. Does your company have a real commitment to sustainability and the environment? How has working remotely helped reduce your carbon footprint? How has it affected your local communities? Move beyond profit being your driver and think about your people and the planet we all live on together. Be a leader that helps harmonize the people-profit-planet economy.