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Gleb Tsipursky

Management

Best Return to Office Plan: A Team-Led Approach

Empower team leaders to choose the work arrangement that aligns with their team’s needs

Published: Thursday, September 30, 2021 - 12:03

Surveys show that anywhere from two-thirds to three-quarters of all employers intend to have a hybrid workforce after the pandemic as part of their return to office plan. Employees would come in one to three days weekly to work on collaborative tasks with their teams. The rest of the time, they would work on their own tasks remotely. Many of these employers also intend to permit employees to work fully remote if the employees want to and can demonstrate a high level of productivity.

The “hybrid first, with remote options” approach offers the best fit for the desires of most employees who worked remotely during the pandemic. That’s according to large-scale, independent surveys asking employees how they want to work after the pandemic (see my previous article, “What Quality Professionals Should Know When Employees Return to the Office”). Data on productivity also showed that employees are happier when working remotely.1,2

Retaining your employees and boosting productivity make a hybrid model with some remote options an example of wise decision-making. But how do you transition to this model as you return to the office?

Get buy-in by seeking staff input on the return-to-office plan

You can use best practices as shared by the 61 leaders I advised on how to develop and implement a strategic return-to-office plan as the pandemic winds down.

First, conduct an anonymous survey of your currently remote staff about their preferences for remote work.

While you may choose to ask a variety of questions, be sure to find out about their desire for frequency of work in the office. Here’s a good way to phrase it:

After the pandemic has passed, which of these would be your preferred working style?
A) Fully remote, coming in once a quarter for a team-building retreat
B) One day a week in the office, the rest at home
C) Two days a week in the office
D) Three days a week in the office
E) Four days a week in the office
F) Full time in the office

Team-led choices for the return to office

The best practice is for the leadership to provide broad but flexible guidelines for the whole company. Then, let teams of rank-and-file employees determine what works best for them.

Empower each team leader to determine, in consultation with other team leaders and their team members, how each team should function. The choice should be driven by the goals and collaborative capacities of each team rather than the personal preferences of the team leader. The top leadership should encourage team leaders to permit, wherever possible, team members who desire to do so to work remotely.

Addressing return-to-office resistance

Many lower-level supervisors feel a personal discomfort with work from home. They feel a loss of control if they can’t see their staff and are eager to get back to their previous mode of supervising.

They’re falling for the anchoring bias that causes us to feel anchored to our initial experiences. Likewise, they feel a strong drive to return to the pre-pandemic world. They suffer from the status quo bias, a drive to return to what they perceive as the correct way of doing things. They refuse to accept the reality that we need to adapt to survive and thrive in the post-pandemic society.

These mental blind spots lead to poor strategic decision-making and planning. Fortunately, by understanding these cognitive biases and taking research-based steps to address them, we can make the best decisions.

Justifying in-office work

Addressing these blind spots with lower-level supervisors in a nonconfrontational manner is the first step to overcoming them but requires some training to accomplish. A more immediate step is having them justify any time their team needs to be in the office.

That justification should stem from the kind of activities done by the team. Team members should be free to do their independent tasks wherever they want. By contrast, many—not all—collaborative tasks are best done in person.

Team leaders should evaluate the proportion of individual vs. collaborative tasks done by their teams. They should also gauge the productivity levels of team members who want to be fully remote. If capable enough, these employees should be allowed to work remotely and only come to the office once a quarter for a team-building retreat.

There should be a valid reason if the team leader desires more than three days in the office per week. Such reasons exist but are rare. Of the companies that I worked with, of the people who could work from home and weren’t essential to be in the office, no company decided to have more than 5 percent of its staff onsite full time. These were sales teams doing outbound marketing calls who found they really benefited and found motivating the presence of their colleagues while making calls that often resulted in rejections.

Conclusion

As companies gear up for a mostly hybrid workforce with fully remote options, leaders need to carry out best practices during the shift so they can seize competitive advantage in the return-to-office, post-pandemic transition.

A highly effective return-to-office plan includes a team-led, hybrid-first model with some fully remote options. That means empowering lower-level team leaders to choose the work arrangement that aligns with their team’s needs.

References
1. Prodoscore. “Prodoscore Research from March/April 2020: Productivity Has Increased, Led By Remote Workers.” May 19, 2021.
2. Microsoft. “The Next Great Disruption Is Hybrid Work—Are We Ready?” May 22, 2021.

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About The Author

Gleb Tsipursky’s picture

Gleb Tsipursky

Dr. Gleb Tsipurskyhelps quality professionals make the wisest decisions on the future of work as the CEO of the boutique future-of-work consultancy Disaster Avoidance Experts. He is the best-selling author of 7 books, including “Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters” and “Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams: A Manual on Benchmarking to Best Practices for Competitive Advantage.” His cutting-edge thought leadership has been featured in more than 650 articles in prominent publications such as Harvard Business Review, Fortune, and USA Today. His expertise comes from more than 20 years of consulting for Fortune 500 companies from Aflac to Xerox and more than 15 years in academia as a cognitive scientist at UNC-Chapel Hill and Ohio State. Contact him at Gleb[at]DisasterAvoidanceExperts[dot]com, Twitter@gleb_tsipursky, Instagram@dr_gleb_tsipurskyLinkedIn, and register for his Wise Decision Maker Course.