So, everyone back to the office! Should be pretty straightforward, right? I mean, we worked together full-time at the office before Covid, so we’ll just basically pick up where we left off.
Yeah… not even close.
Make no mistake: the transition back to the office is every bit as game-changing as figuring out how to keep working through a pandemic was. Whether a company managed to survive, break even or thrive during Covid, the transition to the next normal is a crucial step.
This is a complex topic, and there’s so much information here that we’re going to break this newsletter into two installments. This month we’ll focus more on the organizational side of the process; next month will address more people-oriented topics.
I’ll share with you some things we’ve done, and things we’ve learned, as we planned and began executing our return-to-work process. It’s not finished, because it’s always evolving, but our Operations team has developed a list of "10 best practices in creating a hybrid work environment." Every organization has its idiosyncrasies, but these are principles I think anyone can apply to their situation.
Here are the first five.
1. Do an industry comparison.
It’s no different than other business topics: one of the best resources for ideas is to look at what the other organizations in your industry are doing – and then try to do it better. (You’re reading this, so you’re already with the program!)
2. Do both specific and broad research.
There’s a ton of information out there as companies worldwide tackle this challenge – even with completely different services or products, the similarities of workplace demographics, attitudes, policies and practices carry over. For example, we learned that new hires across all industries had longer learning curves and lower retention rates when they worked remotely (makes sense; we lost workers over this, too). Don’t work in a vacuum; do the research and pick out ideas and feedback that apply to your own organization and use them to create your plan.
But also gather as much useful data as you can within your own organization. When we transitioned in 2021 to allow limited numbers of people to come to the office, we had to schedule carefully – which gave us data to see how often people preferred to come in. This was valuable later on as we developed our new policies (more on that in Part 2).
3. Consider how you work.
This transition is not just about where we work; it’s about how we work, too. This realization prompted us to evaluate everything from our communications to our software. First, we took the opportunity to ask ourselves: what would we change even if Covid hadn’t happened? After acting on that, we framed further evaluation in the context of the future of work, including Covid’s impact. Hybrid is not a buzzword; it’s how things are going to be going forward.
So match up this reality with the way your team best performs their work. Look at everything with fresh eyes: how will this work without everyone here all the time? What tasks require the physical presence of a team? How can we arrange schedules to stay efficient? There are more details below, but it's worth starting off with the mindset of both “where” and “how.”
4. Evaluate all your systems.
Break everything down in terms of its viability as part of the User Experience (UX) or the Customer Experience (CX), or both. What is compatible long-term in a hybrid environment? Are there redundancies across remote and office work? What pieces are missing that could bridge the two environments? What necessary Covid changes left us with a process or policy that’s stuck with one foot in the past and one in the future?
As a natural part of this process, take the time to retire any policies, procedures, practices and tools that don’t suit a hybrid environment. There’s bound to be some confusion among your staff about “what’s new,” so do what you can to pre-empt that by tossing out anything that no longer applies, as you create or modify other things.
5. Invest in hybrid-enabling technology.
There’s a core difference between how our people worked in a temporary work-from-home environment versus how we want them to work in a thoughtful, permanent hybrid model. This means we had to step back and essentially imagine we were creating a new business, one where people would be in the office some days and working from home on others. One conclusion is that we needed to provide tools for mobile, on-the-go communication and access. Another was that project management would be different.
Our Operations team took the lead in creating a centralized system to run projects through – one that’s designed for a post-pandemic hybrid world. This new system is actually highlighting situations where different departments are working on similar solutions, and with added programming from our IT department, we’ve been able to combine their efforts to create more efficiency, plus new long-term solutions that benefit more teams.
The work described in these first five steps sets the stage for what comes next – the most complicated, challenging and potentially rewarding part of creating a successful hybrid work model: keeping your people happy and productive. In our next newsletter, we’ll provide five tips for doing that.