Make Going Back to the Office Worth It

Hamilton Lindley explains how to make going back to the office worth it for employees.

The changes the pandemic created will remain long after the pandemic is over. According to a recent study, most workers will work from home about 20% of the time. That is an increase of 400% from 2019. Employees said that working from home was a perk worth 7% of their paycheck.

After this unplanned social experiment, companies should deconstruct why we have an office in the first place. Businesses must show a renewed value to their employees by coming back to the office. It can’t be a place to do the same thing we are doing at home. We must make our office space different. Otherwise, we will likely build resentment with employees.

We can’t pretend that worker’s roles require them to return to the office. This year has shown they can perform tasks from home just fine. Instead, managers must build a compelling case that provides workers a purpose to return to their workplace.

Focus on the Four C’s

Tell employees that we have created a new environment for them. We must show that we understand the value of the office while preventing remote workers from feeling neglected. To start improving your workplace, experts suggest focusing on the “four Cs”: connection, collaboration, creativity, and culture.

Connection

The sharpest change for most employees was the lack of social engagement with coworkers. We are social creatures. And we lean on others for support, development, and encouragement. While video conferencing helped us meet remotely, it still lacks the connection in-person meetings provide. At the office, we have many opportunities for interpersonal interaction. The recharge from socialization is what our teams need. People who have a best friend at work are seven times as likely to produce higher-quality work, and engaging customers. That friendship is more likely on-site than remote.

In our new hybrid environment, we must provide a culture that fosters connection. Managers must deliberately foster relationship-building. Workers need connections with their team, manager, and other departments. We can build that connection with the below steps.

Advice for taking action:

  • Foster in-person contact by implementing moments for teammates to talk about subjects that don’t just include work. Focus your meetings on building connections. Ask people to share what is going on in their personal life with the group.
  • Employees need time with you. Be focused and intentional where you listen, learn, and coach. Hold walking meetings. Do something you can’t do virtually.
  • Create similar schedules with teammates where you can eat lunch together or have coffee.
  • Plan group events to encourage people to engage with each other.

Collaboration

Collaboration changed when we shifted overnight to remote work. Returning to the office will promote efficiency and teamwork. The benefit of working together fosters and sustains trust. That will lead to working more efficiently.

Managers will need to build new “virtual first” standards that include remote workers for important parts of teamwork. Remote workers can feel invisible when others are in the office. It’s easy for on-site workers to schedule a time to work together in a shared space, immediately visit each other to request help, and give advice. The visibility of each person’s performance nurtures the team’s confidence in each other.

Advice for taking action:

  • Study new collaboration technology programs as a team.
  • Include remote members in the discussion and decision-making. Ask for information from people who have joined remotely. Ensure all materials are available to everyone.
  • Implement practices to level the playing field for remote workers to get the same investment in personal development as those employees who are on-site.

Creativity

We can’t continually improve without creativity and innovation. Working from home is productive for people executing tasks, mainly because it excludes our commute. But creativity withers without connections and collaboration. Creativity is born from organized collaboration and spontaneous discovery. Spontaneous discovery doesn’t happen in a remote environment. Those impromptu conversations between meetings are extremely challenging to recreate in a marathon of nonstop videoconferencing. This means that working together in person is vital to creative collaboration, brainstorming, and long-range planning.

The in-person meetings provide for fluid and simultaneous sharing of ideas. We can move around the room, break into subgroups, or organize ideas on a whiteboard. Those impromptu creative moments and intentional creative collaboration will improve in person. We must continue to foster creativity in a hybrid work environment.

Advice for taking action:

  • Encourage people to take their work breaks together, and ask what everyone is most excited about. Discuss the biggest discovery you’ve learned lately. Invite remote workers to join you.
  • Plan unplanned creative time. Schedule team meetings dedicated to discussing interesting topics and sharing ideas and experiences. No need for a strict agenda or required action items. Forget practicality for 60 minutes a month.
  • Rethink your innovation spaces. Are they inviting and comfortable to collaborate in while making everyone feel safe from COVID-19? Do they include videoconferencing and virtual collaboration tools so remote workers aren’t left out? Do you provide education and techniques for sparking creativity?

Culture

Culture creates a shared experience for employees that is reflected in their collective values and behaviors. A deepened sense of belonging is created when we share a common space. We can naturally see how other’s work affects us. Although hybrid work improves flexibility and autonomy, it can also create inequality, unclear expectations, and coordination challenges. For example, when workers aren’t visible, they are less than 50% less likely to be promoted, according to a study. Teams must be deliberate about how and why they spend their time on-site.

Advice for taking action:

  • Examine how remote work influences your culture. What are the possibilities offered by spending at least part of your week on-site?
  • Create your team’s “return to the workplace road map.” Define your guardrails for how you’re going to work together. Start with your shared purpose. What are the behaviors you expect from one another? How can you be more intentional about how you spend your time in the office versus at home?

The Role of Leaders and Managers in Crafting Your Workplace Value Proposition

Leaders are responsible for guaranteeing the business delivers a compelling workplace vision. Leaders should:

  1. Craft policies and procedures that foster the four C’s.
  2. Role model the beliefs and behaviors directed by the workplace value proposition.
  3. Empower supervisors to individualize it to the demands of their teams.

Leaders should talk about what returning to work will look like for each person and the team. In these potentially difficult conversations, it is best if managers acknowledge the contributions made and the difficulties faced over the past year-plus while continuing to be authentic and specific to each individual’s circumstances.

Should we let individuals decide?

A Stanford economist argues that companies should organize the on-site days instead of letting individual employees choose on their own. When the team isn’t present at the same time, the advantages to being in one shared space are much weaker.

To engage in cogent, clear, compelling conversations with associates about returning to work, managers should:

  • Recognize each employee’s experiences: Acknowledge the difficulties of the past year. Thank them for their contributions. Understand that your employees have sacrificed blurred lines between work and home life.
  • Be genuine: Your communications must be authentic. Ground them in the real benefits of working on-site. Don’t tout the advantages of coming to the office unless they exist.
  • Individualize to the person: Respect each person’s novel life circumstances and work responsibilities. Ask workers what they liked most and least about remote work. Remind them why they, liked being in the office before. Individualize expectations and plans so they feel acknowledged and understood.

Conclusion

We’ve learned to work differently while working from home. It is the leader’s responsibility to return to work better. We cannot return to the way things used to be. We must show our employees that we have learned from the last year and come back better.

Hamilton Lindley is a father, husband, and entrepreneur in Waco. He likes leading by enthusiasm, energy, and empathy.