You’re eager to make the right decisions about your organization’s workforce model, but it’s complicated.
- Should everyone return to the office?
- If not, who should return?
- How many days should each team work in the office and how many days at home? Which days?
These decisions are taking longer than expected as pandemic variants keep throwing a wrench into the process. If it makes you feel any better, many employers have made these same decisions several times and keep coming up with different answers.
But there’s something else even more critical to consider in your deliberations. The pandemic reshaped employee behaviors and expectations. When developing your policies, bear these changes in mind and proceed in step with employee sentiment, not against it. Step too far, and you could provoke resignations and struggle to recruit new talent.
Clarify the “why” behind your workforce model
For many organizations, the typical road to the hybrid model looks something like this:
- First, everyone returns to the office.
- Then, some employees are allowed to work at home two days a week.
- Next, the standard shifts becomes three days at home and two days in the office.
- Now, the organization is willing to hire a few fully remote workers.
Does that look like success? Not necessarily. One question was never asked throughout the decision-making process: Why?
Although it’s tempting to make a decision based on what other organizations are doing, what your board wants, or what feels right, these factors won’t lead you and your organization to your best outcome. Focusing on who is in the office and when only serves to obscure the true cornerstone for your hybrid model: identify the purpose for coming together in the office.
Your workforce decision must be based on deliberate, intentional reasoning. Clarify the “why” behind your workforce model and use that to guide decisions.
Involve staff in workplace conversations
You shouldn’t make these decisions in executive isolation. Read that again. Instead, keep a continual dialogue going with staff as you go through this process. Survey individual employees and teams to understand their preferences, reasons for coming together, and explanation for working alone at home.
Ask staff which activities are best done in the office and which are best done at home. Each team might have different answers. The finance team prefers to work separately but go into the office to work together on quarterly reports and yearly budgets. The design team wants to brainstorm together, but product developers prefer to brainstorm separately.
Certainly, there are valid reasons for bringing people together such as to:
- Meet for project kickoffs.
- Do strategic planning for the organization, departments, or campaigns.
- Gather for quarterly or annual all-staff or team meetings and retreats.
Take the time to identify these activities, as well as the objectives and rationale behind them. Doing so will be helpful when issues arise that may challenge prior decisions. For instance, what if, on someone’s “office” day, they have deep work to do, such as writing a policy position, researching speakers, or analyzing a needs assessment. Is the office the best place to do those things? Sitting near colleagues won’t improve their performance on these tasks. They might have fewer distractions at home. However, employees with other people at home might focus better in the office.
Discuss these issues with your staff. Evaluate why and when you want to bring people together in the office. Intentionally develop policies that maximize individual and team performance.
Make sure everyone understands the reasons behind workplace decisions
Employees want (and deserve) to know the “why” behind the big decisions affecting their daily lives. But also acknowledge the changing nature of this process. Let them know what to expect for now and what they may experience along the way. Remind them you’re all figuring this out together. It’s natural to not have all the answers.
Don’t wait until you have a firm plan in place to let employees know what’s going on. Tell them what you’re doing to develop a plan. Even amidst uncertainty, if you’re transparent about deliberations and decisions, you will give employees some sense of security and psychological safety about their jobs.
Everyone—employees, managers, and leaders—must understand that deviating from the plan is not a failure. It’s also okay to second-guess the plan. Managers and leaders must be somewhat comfortable not knowing the future and letting others know they don’t know the future. This is a time for honesty and humility.
Embrace an experimental, iterative process
Your workforce decision shouldn’t be a ‘one and done.’ It will remain in flux while you assess the effectiveness of your current approach, reevaluate your “whys,” and, perhaps, reimagine another approach.
- Test: Try new approaches first with a subgroup. Depending on the size of your organization, you could try different iterations with different groups. Try not to let your biases and assumptions affect the process. Put on your workplace scientist hat and experiment with your hypotheses. You will all learn from any missteps. Together, unpack what worked and what didn’t.
- Check in with staff along the way: Ask for and respond to feedback from employees and managers about individual performance, team dynamics, and cross-departmental collaboration. When you arrive at any “final” approach, survey staff to find out how the new arrangement is working (or not) for them individually and as a team. Base future workforce decisions on this feedback, along with an evaluation of organizational productivity and effectiveness.
- Value your employees’ work experience: The collaborative, transparent nature of this process shows your employees the importance you place on their work experience. You’re not just forcing a policy upon them—a policy decided by one person or by the board. Instead, you are creating new policies and processes where they have a hand in crafting, that is a powerful tool in retaining your talent. Staff have a say in this iterative process. It shows you care about getting it right and will take the time necessary to do so. The goal is creating an environment that unleashes everyone’s potential.
There is no one right way
Let your employees, your board, and your constituents know there is no one right answer, because if there were, it would have gone viral by now. Every organization has their own unique set of factors to consider. What’s most important throughout this process is the “why.” You must be intentional about why you want employees and teams to get together in person for your workforce model to be successful.
If you’re not sure how to begin the process of exploring your “why,” a great place to start is with an assessment. For assistance and to learn more, check out our workforce assessment options. They can help get you thinking about your teams and how they work in a new way by using unbiased data instead of unknowns leading the way.