Return to Office: What We’re Learning, And What It Means For The Way We Work

Many organizations – including Padilla – have returned to the office in some capacity, whether full-time or, like us, in a hybrid model. Much like during the height of the pandemic, we’re all learning as we go, and from one another. In that spirit, here are some of the key things we’re hearing from clients and colleagues, and what it means for the way we all work.

People want flexibility, but they also want guidelines and guardrails. Many of us have gotten used to setting our own schedules, and continued flexibility will be critical to successful employee engagement, recruitment and retention efforts, regardless of industry or job. But employees also want guidance. Empower employees to do what’s best for them, but understand that too much freedom can be overwhelming. Does hybrid mean I should be in the office two days or four? Who needs to know my schedule? Set clear expectations and communicate them consistently.

Collaboration takes work. One of the biggest reasons people want to get back to the office is for the interaction with others – and it’s as much about the spontaneous conversations at the water cooler as it is sitting around a conference room table. But, it doesn’t happen automatically. And, in a hybrid environment, it takes even more work. Employees should be encouraged to take advantage of time in the office to truly connect with one another. Look for opportunities to get up from your desk. Meet face-to-face when you can, assuming everyone’s comfortable with it, and encourage others to do the same.

The office of 2022 is much different from the office of 2019. Duh, right? The way we work has changed, which means the way the physical office functions needs to change, too. Offices need to be prepared and configured for collaboration, and that means both in person and remote. If you’re asking people to come in, make sure you have the physical and technological support that enables people to work effectively and efficiently with those who are in the room and those working remotely.

Purpose, vision and values are more important than ever. With people working different schedules and in different places, companies are relying on their purpose, vision and values to unite and engage employees. Make sure that your organization is walking the talk, from the top levels of leadership down.  

Lastly, the importance of empathy and patience cannot be overstated. People going into the office are trying to nail down the timing for their morning commute. Remote employees may be struggling with “being seen.” We’re all adjusting, and it’s going to take a little time. Give employees some grace, ask for feedback, and be willing to adjust and evolve as we all navigate what’s working and what’s not.

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