Prospero: Ask how to remain flexible, not how to return to work

Every day I hear advice about “how to bring people back to the office,” and it makes me cringe. My first question is often, “why?”

As vaccination numbers rise in the United States, the return to in-person work is top of mind for many people. But, like almost everything touched by the pandemic, creating a return to office plan will not be a simple task — or a simple transition. There is not a perfect answer, and you, as the leader, need to be flexible and iterate.

We know that some people have been waiting for this day — they want to dive back in with handshakes and hugs, are ready to delete Zoom, and can’t wait for face-to-face meetings. But, on the contrary, others have adapted to working remotely and feel they have the tools to stay connected — and have fully embraced the flexibility that remote work brings. And, of course, there are people in the middle. Many are still unsure of what they want to do during a still uncertain time, and those who don’t yet feel safe to be around other people while COVID-19 remains present in our communities.

So, how do company leaders, decision-makers, and managers navigate the return to the workplace?

Treat them like adults and they will make the right choice. 

First and foremost, this is a chance to have a conversation with your team and ask them: What do you want going forward? And what would allow you to feel like you’re thriving?

Secondly, there’s question number two: Does it benefit your organization revenue-wise to bring everyone back? If the answer is yes, then deciding to get people back to in-person work will be higher on the list. For a company like ours, we realized that while we need camaraderie and collaboration, we don’t have to have everyone back in the office to make revenue.

Right now, staying as flexible as possible will allow you to put your employees first and find the best solution.

What’s the least amount of structure to get the best results? In a moment like this, when you mandate something and ultimately put a structure in place, it may or may not serve the people in your organization as thoroughly as you think. Staying as flexible as possible will allow you to accommodate your employees’ needs and range of experiences.

It’s also critical to see this decision within the bigger picture of your company culture. “Ask yourself: What are the guardrails we are putting in place for our organization?” What are the things that are going to keep us safe versus what are those governing factors that are going to stifle us? While some members of your organization will be looking to their leaders to make these decisions for them, there could also be unintended consequences. If we tighten the guardrails, we could stifle all the things we’ve working on to create an environment that empowers people to make their own decisions.

The key is figuring out where that line is in your organization — what is that balance? The bottom line is that it must be equitable, and it must keep people safe.

At Turning the Corner, we’ve always had core hours and flexible hours for our team members. We have a set time each week when we’re all working together, and all the other hours of the week are completely flexible to be determined by team members.

This model allows people to establish what works best for their own lives and schedules and could be adopted as your company navigates a return to the office under COVID-19.

I truly believe when people receive this level of flexibility, they make great decisions. This philosophy has worked exceptionally well for our team, even before the pandemic. We all know our shared destination, our goals, and our company values. We trust that our team members have their own way of getting there.

Kendra Prospero is the CEO and founder of Turning the Corner, a Boulder-based organization that does recruiting the way it should be done for job seekers and companies.

Every day I hear advice about “how to bring people back to the office,” and it makes me cringe. My first question is often, “why?”

As vaccination numbers rise in the United States, the return to in-person work is top of mind for many people. But, like almost everything touched by the pandemic, creating a return to office plan will not be a simple task — or a simple transition. There is not a perfect answer, and you, as the leader, need to be flexible and iterate.

We know that some people have been waiting for this day — they want to dive back in with handshakes and hugs, are ready to delete Zoom, and can’t wait for face-to-face meetings. But, on the contrary, others have adapted to working remotely and feel they have the tools to stay connected — and have fully embraced the flexibility that remote work brings. And, of course, there are people in the middle. Many are still unsure of what they want to do during a still uncertain time, and those who don’t yet feel safe to be around other people while COVID-19 remains present in our communities.

So, how do company leaders, decision-makers, and managers navigate the return to the workplace?

Treat them like adults and they will make the right choice. 

First and foremost, this is a chance to have a conversation with your team and ask them: What do you want going forward? And what would allow you to feel like you’re thriving?

Secondly, there’s question number two:…