There was one day last year when I was on a call with the chief human resources officers of several leading global companies, I received a text from my CEO, and I had dozens of employees reach out to me, all asking the same question at once: when will we go back to the office?
This is a question that organizations around the world have been grappling with, and as chief people officer at Workday, I am focused on shaping what the future workforce model looks like, while understanding that everyone has different needs.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach and we’re learning as we go, but as you think about which model you plan to support for your company—whether it’s remote, hybrid, or in-office—here are some tips based on conversations I’ve had with industry leaders and employees at Workday.
Group your workforce into personas
For those of you thinking about returning employees to the office, I encourage you to categorize your workforce into personas. Think about which groups of employees fall into the category of “Always,” “Mostly,” “Sometimes,” or “Rarely” in the office. For example, if you are a tech company like us, you might want to have employees who are working in data centers “always” be in the office, while other jobs that may require more travel or onsite support with customers could be a better fit for only “sometimes” being in the office. While an individual’s persona might evolve over time, establishing these groups from the outset can help create some clarity around expectations on being in the office.
Consider a transition period
Instead of telling your employees to go back to the office on a specific date, consider a flexible transition period tailored to their needs. For example, for those who temporarily relocated during the pandemic, they may need more time to move back to where they will reside permanently. Or if kids aren’t back in school yet, employees might take longer to determine their caretaking schedules on top of work. A transition period to the office can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months—it’s up to each organization to decide what will work best for them and their people.
Establish moments that matter
For those of you adopting a hybrid work model as the pandemic subsides, I think it will be critical to establish “moments that matter” to determine whether a particular meeting or activity should ideally be in person. One way to think about this is to consider the percentage of time that employees should be in the office per quarter versus assigning them a set number of days per week. For example, it might make more sense for finance teams to be in the office together towards the end of the quarter when they are closing the books, while marketing teams might decide to come in for brainstorm sessions and planning meetings at the beginning of the quarter. Again, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, but defining those “moments that matter” will help organizations determine which activities should be in person to spur innovation, nurture culture, drive decision-making, and solve problems.
Create inclusion in varied work environments
When your whole team isn’t together, I encourage you to be intentional about being inclusive. For instance, in a hybrid environment, think about a meeting where a majority of people are in a conference room and a couple others are calling in via Zoom—how do you help ensure that the remote workers get a chance to speak? Training might be necessary for managers on how to facilitate this, or you might want to consider leveraging new technologies to help bring remote workers into the conversation. Whichever method your organization decides, it will be important to find new and different ways to have touch points with people no matter where they are.
Keep a pulse on health and well-being
Regardless of the approach you choose, prioritizing the health and wellbeing of your employees should come first. There are many different ways to support employee wellbeing—such as added caregiver benefits, flexible schedules, mental health resources, and training on how to have difficult conversations in the workplace—but a key consideration is how these initiatives are creating psychological safety for your workforce. According to Harvard Business Review, psychological safety is defined as “the belief that one can speak up without risk of punishment or humiliation.” One way we are doing this at Workday is by leading with empathy, and creating safe spaces where employees can speak candidly about events and issues, such as through Town Halls and Employee Belonging Councils. However you decide to support your workforce, it’s essential to create a sense of belonging so employees can bring their best selves to work every day.
As we plan out our own future workforce model at Workday, the safety and health of our employees is our No. 1 priority. The decisions we make will evolve over time, but based on learnings from the past year about our employees’ working styles, priorities, and goals, we know that changes are necessary to meet our workforce’s needs—and the needs of the business—as we transition to a post-pandemic era.
Ashley Goldsmith is chief people officer at Workday, a provider of software for financial and human capital management.