The first few weeks of the summer of 2021 feels like a different time. The COVID-19 vaccine had become available to all Americans over 12 years old. The vaccination rate was going up and hospitalizations were going down. It had been over a year since lock down orders confined life to our homes, and many of us were starting to reemerge. For a few hopeful weeks it felt like the end of the pandemic was finally in sight. With that, many companies announced plans to call their workers back to offices. But then the delta variant threw a wrench in those plans.
The return to the office has become far more complicated. Some companies have paused or slowed their reopening plans, but many are moving forward with full or hybrid returns. In this season of the New Way We Work podcast we dive deep into the return to the office and the lingering effects that the past 18 months will have on work life.
The pandemic forced many companies into the future of work. Remote and hybrid workplaces were inevitable, but rather than slowly and deliberately arriving there in 10 or 15 years, many were forced into it amid a global crisis.
But we are no longer in triage mode. As millions navigate what this next phase of work looks like, it’s time to be much more thoughtful and intentional than we were back in March 2020.
For the first episode of the new season, I talked to longtime Fast Company contributor, Gwen Moran. Moran has been writing about the future of work, remote work, return to office, and all things Work Life for decades. (You can read all of her latest Fast Company articles here.) Here’s a little of what she had to say:
Communicate clearly before calling people back to the office
Not only is the pandemic far from over, but we are also in the middle of the Great Resignation. Moran advises that in order to keep the talent that you have, “you really need to make employees part of the decision-making process and keep in touch with what they’re thinking and what their comfort levels are.”
She points out that many employers have moved the goal posts several times throughout the pandemic, calling for a return to office last summer, then in early 2021, then at the end of this summer. “Every time you move the goalpost, you blow up people’s lives a bit. Because they have children, they have caregiving responsibilities, perhaps, for elders. They have cycles that they’ve gotten into over the past year and a half that are going to be hard to interrupt.”
One size will not fit all in the return to the office
Companies that draw a hard line and require all employees to return to the office will likely see a lot of push back. As numerous surveys have shown, many people want to stay working remotely at least some of the time. Moran advises that leaders should ask themselves some questions before deciding who should come back to the office: “Were people still as productive as you expected them to be? Were they performing as well as they did in the office? Did you provide them with the right support for them to do so?”
There could also be unspoken and more personal reasons why people don’t want to go back to the office, such as people with anxiety or sleep disorders who have been able to adjust their schedules to work better at home. “It’s really the type of accommodation that’s so simple, but allows people to be their best,” Moran says.
For more considerations for return to the office including how to address career development and the most successful methods for building a hybrid workplace listen to the full episode here.
Note: This episode was recorded before President Biden announced plans to sign an executive order that’s said to require essentially all government employees and employees of many private companies to get vaccinated against COVID-19.