Back to Office?
Some organizations are making September 2022 the time for employees to come back to the office, either full time or part time. If your organization is one of those wanting employees to come back to the office, the hope is that they’ve done a good job explaining why they want people back, and acknowledging that for some employees, it may seem to be a net negative (e.g., factoring in commuting time and expense).
Back to Office as an Experiment
In some sense, we are all participants in a giant experiment about remote, hybrid, and in-office work, and which type of work environment more effectively meets a team’s goals. I wrote team because that may be the right level to define and then assess success of a given work strategy. Teams primarily composed of engineers, for instance, might work very effectively working remotely. Teams primarily composed of designers or marketing people who work collaboratively may find hybrid or in-person working is best suited for the team to be most productive and effective.
Get Clear About Your Hypotheses of Why Getting People to the Office is Better Than Remote
What I’m getting at is that the decision about where people work might be best off could be team-based, not organization-based. And even at the team level, leaders and managers will have hypotheses about where employees should be based when they are working. Get as clear as you can about what you’re hoping to achieve by asking, inviting, mandating, that people spend more time at the office. What are you hoping will happen and how will you know whether it has? What will you be assessing to see whether the system is working? The idea here is that, based on the data from the last few years and beyond, managers and leaders have some ideas, some best guesses, about what should happen when people come back to the office and why that would be a good thing.
Test Your Hypotheses
Test those hypotheses and whether they are correct. If the data indicates that you’re not getting the advantages you hoped, try a different experiment of where and how team members work and see whether that way gives the desired results. Communicate with employees about their results. Get their input about the next experiment.
In a sense, what I’m suggesting comes down to:
If calling employees back to work, be honest and clear about why—what the team/organization hopes to gain. Define measurable goals so you can determine whether the system is giving you the gains you want. Recognize that different teams—and different types of teams and employees—may have different hybrid or in-person schedules that work best for each.
Communicate to employees what those desired gains and goals are and why they are important to the organization, to the mission and work, and ultimately, to employees.
Collect data to see whether the hybrid or in-person system is working as hoped. If it isn’t, be honest about that and get employees involved in what next possible steps could be to achieve the desired gains. Try a different strategy (perhaps with new goals) and collect new data. Learn from employees as to how it’s going for them.