Return to the office: The leadership story
"If I ever have to return back to the office three-to-five days a week I’d definitely be looking for a new job."
As a leader in the marketing industry, this is likely something you’ve heard from team members or colleagues. In fact, in a recent Angus Reid survey, more than half of respondents have indicated that they will begin looking for a new job or quit immediately if this is the case. If you haven’t heard this feedback, it’s time you start speaking with your team as you likely aren’t getting honest answers from the people you work with.
For decades, employees spoke about the weather and their workloads as we rode elevators up to our floor where we worked in our cubicles. All of that changed when COVID-19 hit as the conversations switched to restrictions, working from home, and what virtual event you were attending and if it came with a nice charcuterie board.
Now, the conversation has shifted to “how many days per week are you coming into the office?” Many feel that productivity and efficiency while working from home significantly surpassed anything that could be done pre-COVID. As marketing leaders, we find ourselves grappling with the following:
- How do we have honest conversations with our team to not only keep them on board, but also generate excitement, provide comfort, and showcase the positives of a more consistent return-to-office approach?
- How do we as leaders put together a plan that may differ from other teams or departments, knowing that it’s the talk of the elevator.
- Do we even want this return to the office?
Let’s dig deeper into each of these.
Having an open and honest conversation
The first step of effectively leading your team through this next phase is to have individual meetings with your team members to understand their current mindset. One of the most common mistakes a leader can make is saying, “Well we used to do that pre-pandemic, so you just need to find a way get back to that point.” This is an answer that will put your team members on edge, as it shows you have not learned or diagnosed a thing since the pandemic hit. Just because something was done in the past when there wasn’t an effective alternative, doesn’t mean team members will be willing to go back to it.
After speaking with your team and hearing their views, show that you’ve listened and put together a plan that reflects an effort to ease their concerns and provide the rationale for wanting to get back in the office on a more regular basis. Many employers have gone the route of providing “pizza parties or “happy hours” but this is not what employees are looking for. Instead, find ways to drive purpose, engagement, and opportunities for career development. For example:
- Schedule team education and follow-up brainstorming activities that re-activate collaboration and learning.
- Have innovative idea meetings first thing in the morning to provide opportunity for team members to speak freely about ways to conquer the day.
- Instead of sitting in a boardroom, do walk-and-talk meetings.
- Look for opportunities to take wellness breaks such as scheduled lunchtime walks or wellness classes that give everyone a chance to step away.
- Provide opportunities for team members to lead meetings that they wouldn’t have in a virtual capacity.
For many, the benefits of working from home outweigh anything that a corporate in-office environment can provide; however, leaders can leverage a more collaborative and opportunity-driven environment to help set up the infrastructure of a positive return-to-office approach.
The elevator conversations
If you’ve done a great job with listening, understanding, and then developing opportunities, the elevator conversations should not concern you. Sally and Jim in a different department may have a completely different return-to-office schedule than those on your team. Be sure to explain to your team members why this approach has been taken and that other teams have different needs. If you’ve done your research on the items above, you’ll be surprised about how your team members become ambassadors of return-to-office and how they will lead the conversation in a positive way.
But do we actually even want this
Maybe the biggest question about all of this is whether or not we ourselves actually want our team members returning to the office more regularly… is there really a benefit? Some teams have really thrived through the work-from-home environment and productivity has been at an all time high; in many cases, more quality work has been completed than ever before. It’s too early in the return-to-office process to know for sure if this return will produce better business results. However, we must be open to a new view of productivity and be willing to adjust expectation as we embark on this new chapter.