I recently listened to a fascinating, information-rich Korn Ferry podcast on leadership, called “Back to Work…for What?”
The podcast started off by pointing out that many companies want to bring their employees back into the office at least some of the time, but the latest figures show nearly three out of four are having a hard time getting people to come back at all. So the question is: Why? What’s going wrong?
The podcast presented several causes for this disconnect. First, CEOs want people back in the office for a few different reasons. First, some leaders who are inexperienced with managing hybrid teams simply don’t trust their workers are getting things done without being able to physically see them working. Additionally, there are some business goals that are driving the return to the office. The Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research found that fully remote work causes a 10-20% productivity dip for employees, while other studies suggest in-person work reduces the opportunity for distraction (it’s easy to multitask during a video call or lose interest and click away during a webinar, for example) and increases productivity during—and the tangible takeaways from—meetings.
However, employees are objecting to coming into the office for reasons of their own. Namely, they feel like their leaders don’t trust them and, as a result, want to micromanage their daily workflow. The podcast pointed out that employees also don’t want to come into an office just to sit by themselves and join a Zoom meeting with other employees who are remote. What’s the point of that, after all?
There are a few no-brainer solutions to these issues that can help bridge the divide between employers and employees on the return-to-office issue. As Korn Ferry points out, the primary way to reduce friction is through communication and transparency. Leaders need to set clear expectations around what “good” looks like—when it comes to both in-person and remote work. It’s about communication goals and targets and using data to back up performance, regardless of where the work is being done.
Leaders also need to be upfront with employees about why they need to do some things in person. This comes down to business needs and goals; leaders should clearly communicate these to workers.
Meanwhile, workers have indicated that they actually do want to spend time in the office, but only if it serves distinct purposes. For example, employees generally want opportunities to socialize with their coworkers, as well as network and get to know new people, which happens most organically in person.
At the end of the day, bringing people back into the office requires a concrete, well-thought-out plan rather than a simple decree or ultimatum. What are some ways your company is bringing people back, and what has that looked like for you? Has it been a successful process?