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Is it Time to Get Back to the Office?

This week the Walt Disney Company’s returning CEO Bob Iger told employees that as of March 1, they are to be back in the office four days a week. Since the pandemic, the company’s hybrid model dictated employees be in the office three days a week.

He cited the need for in-person collaboration saying, “In a creative business like ours, nothing can replace the ability to connect, observe, and create with peers that comes from being physically together, nor the opportunity to grow professionally by learning from leaders and mentors.”

It will be fascinating to watch and see how much pushback comes from this new mandate. Many companies want to move closer to office-centric operations again but have not pushed the issue because of the crazy post-pandemic labour market we find ourselves in. Will the desire to work remotely be enough to make employees walk away from a preferred employer like Disney?

And General Motors is bringing their salaried employees back in the office three days a week at the end of January after two years of remote work to ensure they reap the benefits of in-person collaboration for their upcoming launches.

Remote job postings are still above pre-pandemic levels but have gradually declined since March of 2022. So, will there be a correction? Are people getting tired of isolation from their peers? Equally as important are employers getting tired of trying to manage remote productivity and are clients getting fed up and frustrated by the decrease in service quality and responsiveness?

  • We know that as consumers we’re certainly tired of waiting and waiting and waiting for customer service professionals who are no longer ‘in the office’, but instead appear to be MIA completely.

  • Employers we know who run branch offices are certainly ready to pull their hair out at how long it takes for the now ‘remote’ head-office staff to actually perform simple business tasks for their clients.

  • And managers we talk to regularly are tired of the constant stress of trying to manage team dynamics and productivity, while only rarely being in the same room as their teams.

The unintended consequences of having employees you rarely see, and who rarely see one another, except on-screen are beginning to appear and be felt. The energy of having humans in the room talking, problem-solving, and supporting each other can not be recreated by technology, in our humble opinion. And there is no substitute for those unscheduled hallway conversations.

But all or nothing won’t cut it. Everything’s a balance. And that’s what we need to remember as we attempt to transition remote workers back into the office. Keep these three tips in mind.

1. Offer flexibility. Where there may have been no flexibility before (5 days a week 8 am-5 pm), it’s important to be willing to give a little (one remote day a week). Design whatever works best for your particular organization and culture and those you serve.

2. Be able to explain ‘why’. As Bob Iger did, be prepared to articulate how the work your team does benefits from face-to-face interaction, and even more importantly how that filters down to your clients or customers.

3. When your teams are back in the office, ensure you’re beside them. It’s Management 101, but especially important when you’re transitioning back to an office-based workforce. There’s bound to be an adjustment period and you need to be ‘in the room’ to understand where your teams may need support.

Three years of disruption is not something that can be shifted overnight. And there were undoubtedly legitimate and valuable lessons that were learned about balance and its effect on the quality of our lives and health. What we believe is important to focus on now during this transition is clarity. Clarity of expectations. Clarity in communication. And clarity of purpose.

“Nothing replaces being in the same room, face-to-face, breathing the same air and reading and feeling each other's micro-expressions.”- Peter Guber


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