One of the biggest questions leaders have today is how to best handle the opportunity to return to the office after a year and a half of enforced work-from-home conditions. Do we go back to the office? Stay remote? Do some mix of both? Uncertainty still abounds, safety concerns are still high and we all want to do what’s best for our organization and our employees. So what is the best way to move forward in these unsettled and unprecedented times?
Below are six things for leaders to consider when making plans to return to the office.
1. Avoid the trap of assuming everyone thinks the way you do.
It can be easy to assume that everyone’s experience is just like our own or that our preferences are matched by those around us, but this can get us into trouble. Just because the leader of an organization prefers working remotely or prefers coming into the office to work doesn’t mean that’s how everyone else feels. It also doesn’t mean it’s what’s best for the company. To find out how your leaders and employees are feeling about what to do next, send out a survey. But do not ask for input if you aren’t willing to listen, adapt and respond.
2. Design for the 95%, not the 5%.
HPWP Group, a top consulting group for culture change, recommends designing your approach based on the 95% of your employees that are accountable and dedicated workers, not the 5% with poor performance or behavior. When you design for the 5%, you disengage and lose your top performers. Instead, ensure leaders at every level address poor performance and behaviors directly with those who need it and give your good performers the freedom and rewards that come with high performance. Make sure to check out Owner and Founder Sue Bingham’s incredible book Creating the High Performance Work Place: It’s Not Complicated to Develop a Culture of Commitment.
3. Don’t assume getting back to the old ways is best.
For the first few months of the pandemic, it felt like a waiting game to get back to normal. But that option is long gone, as things have drastically changed over the past year and a half. The way we use technology is different, our expectations and desires for work/home life balance are different and extra safety precautions remain for the foreseeable future. While there might be aspects of our old ways that we want to bring back as restrictions ease, assuming that is the best option could lead to missing out on a great opportunity as well as creating a recipe for a stagnant business.
4. Become outcome-focused rather than activity-focused.
Working remotely has given companies a great gift: the opportunity to become outcome-focused rather than activity-focused. Changing up the work structure has, by proxy, changed our work habits. The ways we used to waste time or busy ourselves were eliminated when we left the office and the work became much more about our business outcomes as we had to figure out how to achieve our objectives without the comforts and habits we used to have. Use RTO as an opportunity to continue and hone the practice of being outcome-driven rather than task- or activity-driven. To do this, you must learn to set clear expectations on performance and behavior, communicating purpose and desired outcome rather than just tasks and goals.
5. Honestly assess the pros and cons of working remotely.
There are many benefits to working remotely: Sharing documents is easier, travel time is reduced or nonexistent, workers had better health during flu season and ad hoc meetings got easier. On the other hand, extroverts who need personal contact lost their sense of team and support in some cases, people who like working alone may have become even more isolated from the team, some leaders might not have known how to manage remotely to achieve results and good business culture, and weaknesses in your execution may have become more apparent. Honestly assess the benefits and detriments of working from home as well as the benefits and detriments of working from the office.
6. Be prepared for mixed meetings, including both on-site and remote employees.
Instead of just assuming your way of doing meetings and working together will work, plan and test different meeting approaches and tools. Make sure everyone is set up for success with technological knowledge and the ability for remote meetings, and determine whether or not it’s possible for people to meet in person. Part of finding the best approach for a business team is trial and error, and it’s okay to make mistakes or change course when things aren’t working.
Ultimately, we are in uncharted territory, and plans to return to work aren’t one-size-fits-all. The approach to RTO will differ and vary for each team depending on the type of business, the type of team and the desired business outcomes.
This article was first published as a Forbes Coaches Council Post.