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Back to the office?

Oct 20, 2020 | Ruth Maier-Hamberger

Slowly Covid-19 induced restrictions are being lifted and companies have the opportunity to bring their employees back into the office. Some managers can’t wait to do so but a word of caution: Undesired side effects might occur if this is not thought through properly as the working reality has changed – and so have employee expectations!

In one of our recent leadership development webinars, an executive reflected on trust and employee empowerment. He said: “When Corona hit, and we had to move to remote working, our employees were just great. They pulled this off and we performed well as a department – I’d actually say as a company. Now, I see some of my colleagues wanting to force people to come back to the office because they feel they can control them better this way. I am really concerned about the message we are sending there….”

So would I be! Why? Let’s have a look at this from the employee perspective:

Imagine you are one of those employees. You have given your best during the last challenging couple of months; you moved to home working; you took more ownership of your tasks, as you simply had to; you delivered results because you knew the company was relying on you; you contributed to shaping new ways of working; and you enjoy this autonomy, the additional flexibility that you were given and handle it in a responsible way.

There are indications that employees will demand to maintain some of this newly gained autonomy and flexibility. Recently,the BMW workers’ council advocated to allow two days of remote working per week for employees.

Even if you have your team working in the office again, you will face a “new normal”. Be prepared for their new expectations, developed through their work experience in the last few months, especially around thenewlevel of autonomy. It is worth noting that Daniel Pink, the well-known researcher and NewYork Times bestselling author, has shown in his work how essential autonomy is to motivating people.

So, when getting ready to bring your people back into the office, you might want to reflect on how you’d want to shape this process – and what the “new normal” in the office will be. A couple of questions that are worth considering:

How did the individuals in my area experience the way of working over the last couple of months?

How did they feel about it?

How have I experienced the way of working in the last couple of months?

How did I feel about it?

What behaviours or solutions would I like to continue and make part of the “new normal”?

How do I communicate my approach to the team?