The Return to the Office is Becoming Endemic
For many Americans out there, returning to the office is a nonstarter. We also need to recognize that for many others, the return to an office environment is inevitable. It might even be a joy for some. Whether going back into the office or working remotely, it isn’t that fears have gone away or that the pandemic mentality has ended—we are incorporating that into our everyday routines. As a people, it is that much more important to have an ongoing conversation about what it means to be back in large groups, face-to-face with our colleagues. We can’t simply ignore the fact that we have a split opinion on the return to the office, nor can we ignore that our work cultures have shifted.
Why the hesitancy?
Some of us don’t want to go back because the commute from the bedroom to the home office is so much easier and less stressful than the commute into a physical, offsite office. Some of us don’t want to go back because we don’t want to catch COVID, colds, or anything else that might be floating around. And if we’re being honest, I know some people don’t like the idea of going back because they don’t necessarily like their coworkers. Moving work to a virtual environment has highlighted numerous gaps in our organizations and in our national work cultures. The “Great Resignation” wasn’t so much of a dropping-out as it was a pronounced adjustment of situations (remote/hybrid work, better pay, flexible hours, better feel, better benefits, etc.). We didn’t lose talent as much as the talent moved to jobs that more comfortably fit their needs. A move not to a greener pasture, but to a different shade of the previous one.
The perspective of the individual is the crux of the argument, as not everyone liked moving away from the office, and some can’t wait to go back. In a Future Forum Pulse survey back in 2021, only 24% of respondents wanted to go back to the office and it doesn’t seem like much has changed since then. Working remotely has made some people feel like they are disconnected—they experience a lack of communication and energy in their at-home environment. Others just have too many distractions at home, such as pets, children, significant others, and neighbors.
Both perspectives are equally valid—but more importantly, both need to be heard.
The only thing to fear is a lack of understanding
If you don’t want to lose talent, create controversy, and sow dissent among your workforce, listen to and care about what your people are telling you. The error I’ve seen and heard about most frequently during this time of transition back into the office environment is simply dictating the mandatory move, whether people are in-office, hybrid, or 100% remote. No matter how you phrase, preface, or explain a mandate, doing so without a chance for people to be heard is a good way to cause more harm.
In response to any change, we give people the chance to voice opinions. Not because all opinions will be ripe with valuable information, but because people need a chance to sway how things are done to them. Even if the outcome is not what they want, it is the opportunity to have some control in their environment that has an impact on productivity, quality of work, and morale in the workplace. And if you thought you were losing talent before, hold on tight, because once you’ve tipped the dominos in the wrong direction, it is hard to put them back. It’s just another way to show that inclusive cultures can help your organization through retention of talent and increased morale, and all because you decided to listen before making a unilateral move.
This is why consulting service providers, like Management Concepts, have change management and facilitation services. Change is hard for organizations, and you will not please everyone, no matter what decision is made. It can be hard to make decisions based upon the opinions of your workforce. Useful solutions, like change readiness assessments, focus groups, and town halls, can be helpful and don’t have to take up the focus of your team. The main benefit of reaching out to us, Management Concepts, is that we can be a neutral party to what may already be a charged situation.
Dr. Ryan Hugh Simmons, ACC, CCMP is the Manager of Human Capital Services at Management Concepts. He is an industrial-organizational psychologist who has led work in change management, organizational development, and assessments within several different industries and has experience in both the public and private sectors.