A 3-Step Return-to-Work Strategy for Companies Coming Out of the Pandemic

Many companies (including my own) were not remote-first before the pandemic.

My team and I had to adjust to the changing reality. The way we used to work didn’t “work” anymore. The way we communicated,  collaborated, designed, and deployed new products had to change. And amidst that change, we had to reinvent ourselves in order to most effectively operate in the world.

Now, as the world is trying to return to some sense of normalcy, we are trying to figure out how to exist in this new reality–what learnings we want to take with us, and what old ways of working we want to return to.

Unfortunately, there is no playbook or “one-size-fits-all” framework for how companies should think about returning to work. However, there are some universal truths. All companies are going to be thinking about how to take the best of both worlds–pre-COVID and post-COVID–and design better, more fulfilling, and productive working environments for employees. And most companies are going to move in the direction of hybrid working models, some leaning more in-person or more digital, but all finding their own blend between the two. 

So, when it comes to returning to work, these are three steps to put our best foot forward:

1. Don’t wait for the right answer. Start, and iterate as you go.

It’s a mistake to think you need to have a perfectly defined strategy in order to get started. If the Covid-19 pandemic taught us anything, it’s that your yearly plans “on paper” don’t mean anything when a global pandemic strikes. 

The takeaway here, for every company, should be that in order to most productively move forward and figure out how to “return to work” (in whatever version that means for you and your business), it’s probably a better idea not to make any grand plans or promises etched in concrete. As we’ve already seen with companies like Apple pushing back their return-to-office plans, we’re not out of the woods yet. And probably won’t be for some time. 

Instead, it’s best to take an iterative and fluid approach to return-to-office policies. Let employees and team members know things may change. The future is uncertain. And be open to those rules fluctuating based on circumstance.

2. Survey your team on their effectiveness at home and personal preferences.

One of the biggest takeaways from COVID has been the benefits that come with working from home. And even as a company that historically was not a work-from-home company, my team and I can acknowledge the ways in which work-from-home culture benefits employees, work-life balance, time management, and so on.

In order to determine the right way to bridge this gap moving forward, the best thing you can do is talk to employees. For example, at ThirdLove we were thinking of creating a system where teams (or “pods”) of people would come in together on the same days, allowing for in-person group work but without as much company-wide in-person interaction. However, the more we thought about it, we didn’t like the idea of siloing people apart–and when we talked to employees, they agreed. The general consensus was that it would be better for company culture if diverse groups and teams were able to work together and interact spontaneously. 

Don’t feel like you have to make these decisions in a vacuum. Include your team.

3. Weigh decisions against the new ethos of your company.

At the end of the day, you have to decide what sort of company you want to build.

Pre-pandemic, we were not a work-from-home company. But post-pandemic, we will likely be a hybrid work-from-home/in-person company. And having clarity around this fact is going to be crucial–so that we can weigh new decisions and policies against this new ethos.

Remember, the future of your business should not be in comparison to the way things once were. Instead, it’s better to think about the future in the context of the way the world is now, and the way the world will continue to evolve. And it’s a mistake to think about how to return to work in the context of the way the world was two years ago.

Things have changed. Employees and team members have different wants and needs, as do company leaders. We have all been transformed by the global pandemic.

And so our businesses will need to transform with us.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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An open minded personality.. fun to be with, because of my positive vibes. God fearing, for without God I am nothing.. Moved with compassion when dealing with you, not selfish or self-centered...

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