Leadership Tips: Going Back to the Office

There have been a few moments throughout my coaching career when a single question appears that impacts the entire business community, regardless of industry, geography or company size. And right now is one of those moments.

The universal conversation I am having with our client companies, the individuals I coach, my friends and business acquaintances, and nearly every working adult in my life is this… “how are you handling bringing your team back to the office?” I have had this exact conversation with at least 25 different people in the last three weeks alone. This is THE question vexing the business community right now, in the summer of 2021.

A mere 16 months ago we were all thrust in the opposite direction… everyone went home, immediately, and we had no idea when we were coming back. But that was a different challenge in every possible way. Because the departure from the office was not a choice. In almost all industries, the decision was made quickly, and at the societal level. We were simply left to figure out how to make that work. There was no “if we will go home.” There was only a “how we will adjust.” The “when” was also mostly universal. Nearly every company I know sent their employees home, rapidly, on Thursday, March 12th, and Friday, March 13th, 2020.

That was a big challenge. But it was a different kind of challenge. There were several choices made for us. We only had to figure out how to adjust our behaviors to a fully remote environment.

I submit that the choices in front of us now — if, when and how to come back, and whether it will be required — are far more challenging. These decisions will require a deep understanding of our organizations and what is required for success, and our colleagues and the level of trust and collaboration that exists.

I love to write with a strong air of certainty and conviction. The things I believe, I tend to believe deeply. But on this topic and these questions, I don’t believe there is any one single set of answers that will be appropriate for all. There will be legitimate and significant choices that each organization’s leadership team will need to make. And those choices won’t be easy to get correct, because every employee in every company has an opinion on this issue.

All I can offer in support of your thought process are some insights into my own decision making, regarding my own team and company. We are working our way through our own process, and are still in the design phase of our own “back to the office” plan. But the basic framework of the process has been really good. I started with an analysis of how things are going. And on that front, things are really positive. If things were bad, then change would be easier to reconcile. But for our business, things are good. We have fully adapted to the remote work environment, our team is aligned and team communication has in general been good. “Do no harm” has been my leadership mantra throughout this process.

Based on the fact that things are generally going well, I made three decisions about The Latimer Group’s back to the office plan:

  1. Because things are going well, I want to give everyone continued flexibility going forward. I want to introduce some office time back into our lives, but in a hybrid way that gives tons of flexibility to a team that has thrived over the last 16 months.
  2. Because I want buy-in across my team, I gave my leadership team the authorship of the plan. I gave some broad parameters, but tapped Whitney, Hannah and Kendra to lead the design of our plan. I felt that would lead to a much better outcome than if I simply created the plan.
  3. Because I know this will be an adjustment for everyone, we will phase back into whatever our final design looks like. We will give everyone on the team the time to adjust back. 

Beyond this, we are still working out the details. But I feel good about the path we are on. And when others have asked me what we are doing, while I can’t give them an actual design yet, I can give them a sense of how we are making our choices, and what our decision-making is based on.

Every company and every team will have to tackle the “back to the office” question in their own ways, and in their own time. But my ultimate advice is that each company look first at how things are going today before making any major decisions on what to do next. In my experience, the fact that things are generally going very well today, in June 2021, has and will have a major impact on how our company moves forward.

The choices of March 2020 were almost entirely universal. The choices of summer 2021 are almost entirely independent. There is no “one size fits all” approach that will work. So, for your company, I encourage you to do what we have done… take an honest look at how things are going; think it through carefully; and make sure to ask a lot of questions of the necessary people before you make up your mind.

That’s my best advice. I hope this is helpful to you.

Have a great day.

Does your team:
– Take too long to make decision?
– Fail to ask for what it wants or needs from you?
– Make things too complicated?
– Deliver unconvincing or disorganized presentations?
– Have new hires who are unprepared to communicate in the workplace?

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Dean Brenner

A book about change

The Latimer Group’s CEO Dean Brenner is a noted keynote speaker and author on the subject of persuasive communication. He has written three books, including Persuaded, in which he details how communication can transform organizations into highly effective, creative, transparent environments that succeed at every level.