The last two years have empowered most of us to be the masters of our time. Remote work has allowed us to build our own personal schedules, enabling us to give equal attention to work and life outside of it. Be it going to the doctor or picking kids up from school - working from home has allowed us to plan our day without the stress of taking time off. Yes, this also means that sometimes the dining table is filled with laptops and office papers, but more often than not, remote work has given us more time within the same 24 hours.
And now with the pandemic seemingly stabilizing, organizations are keen to go back to how things were. They cite greater collaboration and higher productivity as the main reasons to return to the office, but do their people agree?
No Straight Answers
According to this article in Harvard Business Review, there are 5 levels of support and resistance among employees with regard to any change. There are active resisters who do not shy away from pushing back against a change they dislike. Next are the passive resisters who do not voice resistance outright but may interfere subtly. Third, are the neutral folks who do not have an opinion and are unbothered by it. On the support side, there are passive supporters who do not openly encourage others but agree with the change. Lastly, there are active supporters who advocate for change and mobilize others.
This scale is helpful in gauging where your employees stand in terms of their readiness towards coming back to the office for work. Such an assessment can help managers decide on where to expend their energies.
It’s worth noting that in surveys and research studies undertaken to study employee attitudes toward resuming the old work model, it has been found that those in the early stages of their careers want to stay at home. In contrast, employees in the middle of their careers view offices more favorably and the oldest of the talent pool have mixed opinions. In a survey titled, “People at Work 2022: A Global Workforce View” that surveyed more than 32,000 workers in November 2021 from the U.S., India, the Netherlands, and other countries, they found that 64% global workforce have already, or would consider, searching for a new job if their employer asked them to return to the office full-time.
This makes it apparent why no two companies can have the same return to work policy. Each organization will have to take into account the specific needs of its talent pool to arrive at a model that works for its people.
Arriving at a Consensus
Ideating, initiating, and implementing any sort of organizational change is a herculean task - ask any leader. Unless the change you are requesting is backed by solid and acceptable reasons, most employees will see little reason to agree with you. A decision such as this that affects employees’ everyday routine must secure buy-in from all stakeholders before it is executed. Write down all the reasons you think working from the office is necessary. Explore all available options to come up with a watertight plan.
Next is to engage in a session of discussion and brainstorming with all your team members, where you put forward your plans and open the room for surprises. High chances that there will be surprising ideas coming up, that you may not have thought of. Or perhaps your employees may have missed out on it. In either case, this will allow all employees to understand the ‘change story’ and arrive at a decision respectfully and with greater participation.
Do it with Trust
As a manager, you may feel threatened by the thought of your staff leaving or having to deal with too many disgruntled employees. But it’s important to remember that such nuanced decisions require us to be trusting towards the opposite party and work with the positive assumption that both parties are interested in listening and learning.
After all, isn't that how you build a great place to work?