There are few things, it seems, that are harder than getting employees who have grown used to working remotely to come back to the office. There are a lot of good reasons for that. Maybe the best of those is that, in many cases, those employees are just as productive--if not more--as when they were commuting to your office to sit in a cubicle for eight hours five days a week.
Still, there are valid reasons to want your team back in the office. There definitely are roles and teams that benefit from being together in person. No matter how used to meeting on Zoom we get, it will never replace face-to-face conversations in terms of building relationships. Some types of collaboration are still easier when you're all in a room together.
That's why striking a balance between the needs of your business and the needs and desires of your individual team members is one of the most difficult challenges many leaders are facing right now. That's true for both small businesses and giant corporations.
Take Google, for example, which has put a lot of effort into figuring out the way forward. Sundar Pichai, Google's CEO, has talked publicly about how the company is thinking about that balance. The company has invested in new types of workspaces, implemented a hybrid work plan, and given employees the flexibility to work remotely on a permanent basis when it fits.
Pichai has highlighted three things that every business should consider as it thinks about and creates a plan to return to the office:
What's the real reason you're bringing people back to the office? If the answer is that you feel better having everyone in one place because it makes them easier to manage, you're doing it wrong. On the other hand, smart leaders are focused on articulating the purpose and benefits of bringing people back together in one place.
"A set of our workforce will be fully remote, but most of our workforce will be coming in three days a week," Pichai said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal last year. "But I think we can be more purposeful about the time they're in, making sure group meetings, collaboration, creative brainstorming, or community building happens then."
"The thing I'm most excited about is I think the future of work will be flexible," Pichai said. The point is that not everyone's situation is the same, so your plan should have flexibility as a core value.
At Google, that means giving people choices. Some employees will be back in the office full time. Others will adopt a hybrid approach where they work in the office three days a week, and from home the rest of the time. In other cases, employees might choose to relocate and work fully remotely for a period of time.
"Many of us would also enjoy the flexibility of working from home a couple [of] days [a] week, spending time in another city for part of the year, or even moving there permanently," Pichai wrote in a blog post last year. "Google's future workplace will have room for all of these possibilities."
Even if you're a small business, you might be surprised how many different options you can create for your team when you start with the assumption that your plan has to include an element of flexibility.
It's not enough to simply have different ways for people to work. You have to allow your team to have a say in what works best for them as a team, and as individuals. That's a challenge because there will always be a tension between what a manager thinks is best for his or her team, and what an individual has decided is best for themself.
"The sense of creating community, fostering creativity in the workplace, collaboration all make you a better company," Pichai said in an interview at Stanford University in April. "I view giving flexibility to people in the same way, to be very clear. I do think we strongly believe in in-person connections, but I think we can achieve that in a more purposeful way, and give employees more agency and flexibility."
The point is that the best plan isn't about getting everyone back to the office simply because that's the way it used to be. The best plan is one that takes into consideration those three things: purpose, flexibility, and choice.