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Returning to Work – Part 3: Challenge, Drivers and Learnings

30 second summary:

Most professionals have found a rythmn for working from home and have proved that home-working works across a significant spectrum of industry sectors. Staff’s desire to retain a degree of WFH is therefore hard to deny. So, as most companies return to co-located workplaces, we visit the challenges our clients have faced in this endeavour, reasons for doing so – or not, and learnings which can prepare us for our ‘New Norm’.

In this final article of our 3-part Returning to Work series, we visit the challenges some of our clients face in returning staff to the workplace; reasons for doing so – or not, and learnings which can prepare us for our ‘New Norm’.

The Challenges

The biggest challenge for returning to co-located work may be for those organisations that have shifted en-mass to home-working. Many of these have decided to continue home working at least until the beginning of 2021. Concurrently, many are coming to terms with staff’s desire for at least a degree of home working – a desire which will be difficult to fully deny.

The Drivers

The biggest drivers for returning to co-located work include:

  1. Development and winning of new clients – for which many still feel the need for some in-person encounter
  2. Onboarding of new colleagues and the development of staff
  3. The nurturing of company culture
  4. Closer engagement between teams
  5. Informal opportunities to learn from each other
  6. To revive the informal communication that happens “on the way to the coffee machine” which makes people feel “in the know” and part of the wider story.

Notwithstanding, the bottom line is that home-working works across a significant spectrum of industry sectors, and at least partially, will be the new norm for many knowledge workers going forward. The benefits, the “why”, of returning to co-located offices must therefore be articulated compellingly.

The Learnings – we can all take

In light of this, what great practices have our clients learnt through the COVID lockdown(s) that will serve them well as they return to offices? Here are some of our client replies:

  1. “Stay connected as people on the human level” through team zoom meetings, team quizzes. “No need to stop our weekly meetings without agenda when everybody can share what he/she wants.”
  2. “We’ve learnt to ask more personal questions, about how people are organised, how they deal with the Covid situation, to genuinely care more about each other.”
  3. “We know more about each other’s projects because with fewer people in offices the organisation has to be flexible to meet deadlines.”
  4. Leaders have taken initiative to reach-out to team members”. Regular updates – on a one to one basis or to groups/teams, feeds connectivity which is critical to keeping staff engaged and productive for client-effectiveness and for team members’ mental health and wellbeing.
  5. Keep people informed through regular communication” as not knowing affects people’s sense of inclusion and belonging. Being informed also contributes to higher effectiveness and productivity.
  6. Provide availability as offices begin to reopen for those struggling to work from home”. As part of this, “encouraging ‘buddying’ in the office as being there alone isn’t fun!”
  7. Organise ‘roundtable’ catch-ups with clients’ team members”. Informality is helpful.
  8. Run “virtual team events” which could include sending wine or cocktails recipes to everyone for an evening of Quiz Taskmaster fun. “Recognise that it takes creative effort to keep people feeling as if they belong.”
  9. “Whereas in the office we might have just emailed, we’re now picking up the phone, speaking more often than before.
  10. Colleagues who have always worked from home have shared best practices and feel more connected and appreciated now that all of us understand better the challenges around inclusion they’ve faced.”

One client concluded:

“We will come out stronger as a team, with much more appreciation for each other, better understanding of how much we need interaction between us (you only really know what you have when it is gone), better understanding of what remote colleagues experience, and a better ability to work with all team members in the future.”

Let us know about your plans to return to the workplace – or perhaps to embrace a complete step-change in how your company operates.

Of course, if you’d like a chat about how we at Rathbone Results might be able to help your leaders through their workplace transition, we’d be delighted to speak with you.

Footnote: Wordcloud of client replies to “What are you doing differently to bring your people back together and back on track?”

Cora Lynn Heimer Rathbone

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