For close on two years many people have been waiting for the day they can get back to the office. Meanwhile, others are very happy with online options continuing well into the future. But whatever comes next it is not as simple as flicking a switch for either employees or employers.
THERE ARE MANY QUESTIONS FOR LEADERS TO BE CONSIDERING RIGHT NOW
- What is the right model for our business?
- How many people and when do we bring them back?
- How do we reimagine and manage the working spaces?
- Do we need to keep the same amount of physical space?
- And how do we balance all of these organisational requirements with the needs of our people so we can improve engagement and retain talent?
The work environment is not the same as the one we left in 2020. Therefore we should reframe from thinking and planning for a “return to office” or “going back to the office” to looking forward to new ways of working.
“The return-to-office date has died”, says Nicholas Bloom, professor of economics at Stanford University, US. “Endless waves of Covid have led most CEO’s to give up, and instead set up contingent policies: if, when and how to return to the office.”
A wholesale return to work now seems unlikely. Flexibility and remote work have become deeply engrained and provide an opportunity for organisations to truly understand what people need and how they work best.
Australian Industry Group Victorian director Tim Piper said there would be very few companies not instituting some version of hybrid work. “Only a minority of businesses will be returning to the office full time,” Mr Piper said. “Businesses are keen to get staff in to develop office culture.”
All of my clients are mid-conversation about this right now. Many are being proactive in setting up days when whole teams are in the office. Being deliberate about bringing some fun, connection and engagement into their face to face time together. As challenging as these times are, seeing this next phase as a growth opportunity rather than “going back to work” is important. Establishing team rituals will be critical to seeing this time as a chance to develop the culture you need for performance, success and engagement.
WE’VE GOT TO UNLEARN HABITS THAT WE’VE PUT IN PLACE OVER THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS. WE NEED TO LEARN ABOUT BUILDING FLEXIBILITY THE ORGANISATION AND PEOPLE NEED TO PERFORM EFFECTIVELY AND CONNECT WELL.
According to McKinsey, one out of every three employees surveyed said their return to the workplace had a negative impact on their mental health, citing feelings of anxiety, depression, or general distress. Others are anxious about social interactions. In addition to the real human toll, this stress has implications for productivity, engagement, and retention.
For example, nearly 40% of workers would consider quitting if forced to return to their offices full-time, many of them younger workers.
This adaptive opportunity certainly comes with its adaptive challenges for leaders to be reflecting and making progress on. Communication will be key.
There will be lots of conversations happening between leaders and their people and teams. This is another chance to really connect on what matters most to people and organisations. Finding the sweet spot is the opportunity and challenge for us all.