The Return to Office: the Organizational Change Management Project of the Year
The Return to the Office should be named the Organizational Change Management Project of the Year because everyone is trying to figure out how to get people to come back into the workplace after two years of remote work. In addition to the standard challenges of any change management effort, this one is complicated by success as a distinguishing factor: in most cases, we made it work.
Even without a fully laid out transition plan, those who could took their laptops home and just never came back. Some quantifiable business indicators stayed flat (e.g., individual productivity) or in some cases improved like facility expenses reduced (e.g., electricity, water). There were decreases in some areas but curiously we aren’t as good at articulating what those are and how coming back into the office would solve for them.
So, how can we rethink change management and apply it to this current challenge?
Clarify the desired state and its rationale:
- Is a full return to the office every day for everyone necessary?
- Are there savings to be gained from a hybrid workplace?
- Are there other benefits available related to diversity, equity, and inclusion?
- Is your organization pushing for a full return based on the personal preferences of senior leaders?
These are difficult but necessary questions.
Clarify the apprehensions to and benefits of being back in the office:
- Are there tangible benefits?
- What exactly are people concerned about?
Think about what meaningful rewards you can offer employees as incentives to return. Retrain leaders to focus on productivity and outcomes over preference and habits. Finally, allow people the flexibility to manage their own locations and working environment relative to overarching business goals that make sense.
Confirm the operational requirements of the return:
- Does each role have measurable productivity outcomes?
- Are we conflating attendance with productivity?
- Which activities require in-person attendance?
- Which roles and/or what percentage of people need to be there?
- What activities specifically need to be completed in person?
Based on these responses, create parameters around those activities, e.g., core working hours for everyone to be online and available and anchor days for town hall meetings, team building activities, and community service
In ten years, we will realize that the most successful post-COVID organizational cultures will be an intentional combination of nostalgia and innovation. If we lean into the change and embrace it as a part of workforce evolution, the invisible energy of this shift will be stronger than the resistance against it.
Allison Manswell is the founder & CEO of Path Forward Consulting. Manswell’s firm was named to Top 10 DEI Firms and Top 10 Leadership Development Firms list by HR Tech Outlook Magazine. Manswell is also the author of Listen In: Crucial Conversations on Race in the Workplace and the sequel being released this year. Named Most Influential Race Specialist in 2021 and 2022 by Acquisitions International Magazine.