As a brief recap, the first five steps in this process were focused more on the logistics and groundwork of building a successful post-pandemic workplace. This month I’m going to focus more on the people side of things. In the end, the judges of your success in re-building your work environment sit right around you: your own people. Their lives – both work and home – have been upended. They’re looking to you to create a stable, thoughtful, welcoming and efficient way to integrate back into working in the office.
Here's our second set of best practices to achieve that.
6. Reach decisions through company conversation.
The best way to achieve buy-in from your team is to use their ideas. Yes, that’s Leadership 101, but the entire Covid timeline has been littered with decisions that were out of people’s hands. Encouraging and facilitating input from everyone involved will play even better in this environment. We used surveys, individual conversations and two separate staff retreats to make sure we had input from all angles. That doesn't mean we used all the ideas, of course, but everyone knows we welcomed and considered them.
7. Consider the speed of change.
One thing to keep in mind is that Covid essentially upended our everyday lives to an unprecedented degree. We quit in-office work cold turkey, and the change was sudden and jarring; it caused long-lasting impacts and challenges. We eventually figured out how to work from home, and now we’re figuring out a long-term hybrid model, but it needs to be a smoother process than how this chaos began. We’re using what we’ve learned, doing a slow rollout of hybrid expectations. We started by having people come back to the office one day a week. Then we polled everyone to see how they felt about it. That might seem tentative, but it’s what people needed to do: dip their toes in, see how it actually felt and go from there.
8. Consider generational differences and ensure equity.
When you’re dealing with fundamental changes in your workplace, it’s easy to overlook the importance of accommodating different needs. But it’s imperative that you recognize generational differences and apply an equitable approach, by meeting people where they are. This is particularly important with respect to technology fluency, but it extends to all sorts of situations. In the Covid environment, people are being tugged in so many different directions, and if you can help them balance their needs it will benefit everyone involved. So we allow requests for medical schedule accommodations, and we also included non-medical requests, because there are so many variations of needs out there. We’ll consider any request; we’ll have a conversation about why they’re asking for it and then the request is reviewed by the person’s team manager, our chief of staff and our president – to make sure we reach an equitable decision.
9. Be flexible and offer choices.
For the most part, pre-Covid work was straightforward: you came to the office, you worked; pretty much the same expectation for everyone. But it’s just not like that anymore – people have tasted new flavors of work setups. Some people have discovered that they’re truly more effective working remotely. Some miss the office terribly. Some thrive on a hybrid model. They’re all going to want to do what they think works best for them. So here are some things we’ve done:
• We acknowledged that different jobs require different levels of in-person work.
• We let departments and teams choose what day of the week they all come in to meet, and give individual people flexibility on what other day(s) to come in.
• We used data from two years of multiple hybrid versions to see when people chose to come into work. We saw that two days a week was the average, and that gave us a baseline of what people would readily accept. We considered requiring three days a week in the office but settled on two as our starting point.
• New staff do best with more time in the office, so they’ll work five days per week for the first three months, then shift to three days a week for the next nine months. We also coordinated with their direct managers to come in to provide training and mentoring.
10. Re-evaluate often, with leadership and staff.
Part of the advantage of slow versus fast change is that it gives you more opportunities to evaluate progress. We try to over-communicate the why of what we’re doing and see what the response is to it. As examples, we revisited our initial hybrid policy in November 2021, using multiple channels to get team feedback. We phased our return approach as Covid variants surged. We put our current hybrid model in place and then waited a month before we started enforcing it. And we’re currently preparing a new Covid survey to re-assess everyone’s perspectives. We want our team to know we’re always evaluating and ready to change if there’s a better way.
We work to create solutions, not for the sake of it, but with purpose, and we always take into account what will help our employees – and by extension, our company – thrive. So far the response to our evolving hybrid work model has been overwhelmingly positive, with ongoing open dialogue with those who need and want more processing.