Navigating the decisions involved in a return to the office are complex and multi-dimensional
As vaccines roll out globally, organisations are busy planning how they will return to some sort of normal post-pandemic. These are complex decisions; organisations need to balance a whole range of competing factors. A recent McKinsey report found that in many organisations, productivity actually increased during the pandemic, but “many employees now report feeling anxious and burned out”.
On one hand, companies are desperate to see teams co-located once more in a collaborative, physical workspace. They also believe it will inject positive feelings of morale and employee wellbeing. Many hope for a welcome boost of productivity when employees co-locate together once more.
But on the other hand, employers have a duty of care to guarantee (as far as possible) the safety of their employees. They must have fair policies that are equitable and non-discriminatory. HR will want to avoid forcing workers back into the office who are not comfortable or ready. They are also conscious that many employees have thrived whilst working from home. With 52% of workers preferring a more flexible working model post-pandemic, and 30% saying they are likely to switch jobs if they were forced to return to fully on-site work, these are significant factors to consider.
How organisations can tackle this conundrum
Both the Our Tandem team, and many of our clients are diverse organisations that are located all over the world. Our Tandem is also a team that has doubled the size of our employees during the pandemic. We have therefore evolved in a virtual setting. As we approach our ‘return to the office debate’, we considered the philosophical issues, to the strategic and thoroughly practical.
10 key considerations when navigating the return to the office
- Reconsider the purpose of the workplace – A philosophical discussion about the purpose of the workplace post-covid; has our understanding of the purpose of going into the office changed forever?
- Re-thinking ‘office work’ – Understanding what type of work we think is best done in the office (collaborative workshops, teamworking activities, strategy planning days etc.) versus what work can be best performed from home
- Impact on client relationships – A strategic debate about what impact the new ‘return to work’ era will have for our clients and therefore our company strategy and priorities
- Understanding the desire – how many want hybrid working? How many days would they like to be in the office / at home?
- How to optimise team cohesion – How to cater to the needs of people who are desperate to go back to the office full-time versus those who want to work from home full-time and indefinitely
- Level of flexibility – Whether to decree the number of days we expect people to be in the office or whether to leave it to their discretion.
- Ensuring fair practice – How to ensure fairness between our people given that recent growth has meant some locations do not have an office space at all (or the location’s office lease up for renewal)
- Organisational transparency – How to avoid setting unrealistic expectations or making false promise.
- Home office suitability –Whether all our employees have the equipment they need if the home location is set to become the primary work location for many (or whether they have been ‘making do’ with suboptimal equipment assuming they will return to the office at some point
- Maintaining a culture of connectedness – How to open lines of communication between management and employee. And involve people early enough so that they feel they can express their views and influence the decision.
The Importance of the decision
Getting this right is important. A recent survey by McKinsey (Reimagine Work: Employee Survey) clearly showed that many employees feel they’ve yet to hear enough about their employers’ plans for post-COVID-19 working arrangements. 47% of employees are feeling this lack of vision is a cause for anxiety. They found that “organisations may have announced a general intent to embrace hybrid virtual work going forward. But too few of them have shared detailed guidelines, policies, expectations, and approaches”. Employees need to understand these specifics as soon as possible.
Over to you
Suffice to say, Our Tandem will be adopting a pragmatic ‘safety first’ response to our return to the office. We are hoping to respond to our employees’ needs and concerns as possible. Always working to ensure a working environment and culture that help our employees thrive.