Leaders around the globe are in the midst of creating their return to work plan during the COVID-19 pandemic, requiring both vigilance and flexibility to navigate uncharted territory. Inside today’s episode, we have a brilliant conversation with Rachel Casanova, on things to consider when approaching your back to work plan.
This reboarding phase is something that we will all experience together. During this period, it’s vital for your entire staff to be authentic and open about identifying and understanding the needs of returning to work through three perspectives: the business, the individuals and the team members.
When it comes to this return-to-work plan, no one has the answers. The best approach is to look at everything moving forward as a two-week sprint. Prior to COVID, the idea of businesses making decisions in two-week sprints was unheard of. Yet over the past year, companies have found short, temporary, and flexible decision-making to be the only way to move forward.
Make Your Return to Work Plan a Prototype
Make your return to work plan a prototype. Bring your staff in for a day to figure out where the issues are. Then, define how you want to invest your money and what solutions you need to create. The idea behind a prototype is to do first and then strategize, rather than strategizing first and then do.
Your company can work out the issues just like you did a year ago when everyone went fully remote. It’s time to recognize that the next step back is going to be messy and none of us have the answers. Leaders need to try things out and understand that this isn’t a one size fits all solution. Your company is reshaping work once again, and slow and steady will have a lot of merit.
Focus on Authentic Communication
The expectation for authentic communication continues to grow. As the leader, be clear on sharing what you know and don’t know. The return to work plans requires tough conversations.
Instead of trying to come up with the return to work plan on your own, bring the conversations to your leadership team and your employees. Have everyone share what they think is important in regards to the back to work plan. After sharing what you think is important, ask your team: Why would this work? Why wouldn’t it work? What did we forget? Spend time having conversations around imagining what this new plan is going to look like.
Review Your Return to Work Plan Through Three Lenses: Business, Team, and Individual
Individual Needs: Overcoming FOGO
At the individual level, there is a new fear employees are facing called FOGO, the fear of going out. In crafting your return to work plan, focus on helping your employees overcome the fear of going out. When it comes to balancing the needs of the employees versus the needs of the company, don’t overlook issues involving specific, valid needs. For example, many people are still caregivers and have specific reasons for wanting to continue to work from home. Leaders can give employees help in navigating the path to going back to the office.
When crafting your return to work plan, ensure the experience of coming back to the office is worth it. Think of your employees as the customers: What would make their return great? What would make coming back to the office comfortable? Remember we’re re-onboarding Corporate America. Do something that makes your employees’ lives easier. Imagine that everyone is almost like a new employee. They haven’t seen their desk or the office in over a year. What are you, as the employer, going to do to make coming back to the office easier and better?
Business Needs in Your Back to Work Plan
Lately, business messaging has catered towards the individual needs, placing those needs over the needs of the business. In this next work shift, it is important to rebalance the emphasis. To move forward, all three levels must now be supporting the overall goal of the business–individuals, teams, and organization as a whole.
Team Needs: An Overlooked Opportunity
Many people are currently talking about why getting people together to work is important. Teams need to be able to have tough conversations around the needs of the team in their return to work plans. These teams are going to have to balance tensions between what’s right for the business, what’s right for the individual employees, and what’s right for the team.
At the team level, if company leaders allow individuals to choose what’s best for them, they end up creating a potential disaster for their team leaders. These leaders are going to have to find solutions to work based on the needs of the team. This will likely create issues at the team level if someone’s personal schedule keeps interfering with what the team needs. Leaders and teams will need to have tough conversations where they are balancing tensions between the individual’s needs and the team’s needs.
Prioritize Technology in Your Return to Work Plan
Your company is going to be split between some in the office and some at home on any given day, and you need to find the technology solutions that are going to support that. The challenge is connecting both sides to each other in an inclusive way. There are issues on both sides, those in the office and those working virtually, in creating a seamless experience.
At times, remote workers can have a better experience than the in-office employees, but they will feel left out of conversations that might happen only in the office. The first day back can possibly be extremely frustrating if you don’t put time and intention into creating a seamless technological experience. Without intention, a hybrid work environment will get messy.
Focus on Your Purpose Over The “How”
Instead of spending more time thinking about how your office should craft your return to work plan, spend more time answering the question, “How can our company fulfill our purpose?” Focus on doing less than more. Leverage the capabilities of your company, employees, teams. Companies need to get clear on their purpose, which is going to give them a clearer path of their return to work plan.
About Rachel Casanova
Rachel Casanova is a Senior Managing Director of Workplace Innovation based in the firm’s Midtown Manhattan office. Having joined Cushman & Wakefield in 2018, Rachel is equipped with more than 25 years of diverse industry experience advising companies on how to transform their real estate assets to reinforce long-term business strategies and create a workplace experience unique to the company’s corporate culture. In a time of uncertainty about the future of office space, Rachel provides solutions for a range of workplace programs to support the evolving demands of a post-pandemic ecosystem. Forward-thinking and creative, Rachel is passionate about the convergence of organizational behavior, the human experience, and real estate.