Use a Team-Led Approach When Developing a Plan to Return to the Office
Empower team leaders to choose a work arrangement that fits their team’s needs.
Posted September 5, 2021 | Reviewed by Abigail Fagan
- Leaders should seek staff input when creating a plan to return to the office.
- Some employees may experience cognitive biases, such as the status quo bias, when shifting their work patterns.
- Leaders can provide guidelines for the entire company and then let individual teams decide what they prefer.
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 remotely if the employees want to and can demonstrate a high level of productivity.
That hybrid-first with remote options approach offers the best fit for the desires of the majority of 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. Data on productivity also showed that employees are happier when working remotely.
Retaining your employees and boosting productivity makes 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 the following best practices shared by 61 leaders who had 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 on 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?
- Fully remote, coming in once a quarter for a team-building retreat
- 1 day a week in the office, the rest at home
- 2 days a week in the office
- 3 days a week in the office
- 4 days a week in the office
- 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 may be falling for the anchoring bias. This mental blindspot 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 biases are examples of judgment errors that behavioral economists and cognitive neuroscientists call cognitive biases. These mental blindspots, which stem from our evolutionary background and the structure of our neural pathways, 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
Communicating to lower-level supervisors about potential problems in their mental patterns may be the first step of addressing them. A second 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 versus 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. Generally speaking, no more than 5 percent of your staff should be forced to be in the office full-time.
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.