There are few things, it seems, that are more difficult than getting employees accustomed to working remotely back into the office. There are many good reasons for this. Perhaps best of all is that, in many cases, these employees are just as – if not more productive than when they walked to your desk to sit in a cubicle for eight hours, five days per week.
Still, there are valid reasons to want your team back in the office. There are definitely roles and teams that benefit from being together in person. No matter how used to meeting on Zoom we are, it will never replace face-to-face conversations in terms of relationship building. Some types of collaboration are even easier when you’re all in one room.
That’s why balancing the needs of your business with the needs and wants of your team members is one of the toughest challenges many leaders face today. This is true for both small businesses and large businesses.
Take Google, for example, which has put a lot of effort into finding the way forward. Google CEO Sundar Pichai has spoken publicly about how the company views this balance. The company has invested in new types of workspaces, implemented a hybrid work plan, and given employees the ability to work remotely permanently when it suits them.
Pichai highlighted three things every business should consider when considering and creating a return to office plan:
What’s the real reason you bring people back to the office? If the answer is that you feel better about having everyone in one place because it makes them easier to manage, you’re wrong. On the other hand, smart leaders focus on articulating the purpose and benefits of bringing people together in one place.
“Some of our workforce will be fully remote, but most of our workforce will come in three days a week,” Pichai said in a statement. interview with The Wall Street Journal Last year. “But I think we can be more purposeful about how much time they spend, making sure that group meetings, collaboration, creative brainstorming or community building happens then.”
“What excites me most is that I believe the future of work will be flexible,” Pichai said. The thing is, not everyone’s situation is the same, so your plan should have flexibility as a core value.
At Google, that means giving people choices. Some employees will be back in the office full time. Others will take a hybrid approach where they work in the office three days a week and from home the rest of the time. In other cases, employees may choose to relocate and work entirely remotely for a period of time.
“Many of us would also appreciate the flexibility of working from home a couple [of] days [a] week, spend time in another city for part of the year, or even move there permanently,” Pichai wrote in a blog post last year. “Google’s future workplace will have room for all these possibilities.”
Even if you’re a small business, you might be surprised at how many different options you can create for your team when you assume your plan should include an element of flexibility.
It’s not enough to just have different ways for people to work, you need to empower your team to have a say in what works best for them as a team and as individuals. It’s a challenge because there will always be a tension between what a manager thinks is best for his team and what an individual has decided is best for himself.
“The sense of building community, fostering creativity in workplace collaboration makes you a better company,” Pichai said in a interview at stanford university in April. “I view giving people flexibility in the same way, to be very clear. I think we’re big believers in in-person relationships, but I think we can do that in a more focused way and give employees more flexibility. agency and flexibility.”
The thing is, the best plan isn’t to bring everyone back to the office just because it was like that before. The best plan is one that considers these three elements: purpose, flexibility, and choice.