Just a year ago a lot of us said that we’d never go back. Not that we’d all never work in a common office again, but that we had seen all of the ridiculous inefficiencies that came with blindly trudging into a centralized location 5 days a week.
Remember that before COVID, even simple things that we now count as table stakes – like video meetings – were not common. We can recall anticipating some executive education and a bit of last-minute tech support crisis with nearly every video conference that we scheduled in 2019.
And yet, it seems that we’re now returning. As of July, 59% of full-time employees in the US are back to being 100% on-site, and in the last couple of months, the following “tech”companies had issues some form of mandatory return-to-office (RTO) order: Amazon, Apple, BlackRock, Chipotle, Citigroup, Disney, Goldman Sachs, Google, IBM, JP Morgan, Meta, Redfin, Salesforce, Snap, Starbucks, Tesla, Twitter & Uber.
Even the virtual meeting company itself, Zoom, has called its people back, so what hope is there for the rest of us?
Just because we’re heading back to IRL spaces doesn’t mean that we have to lose all progress.
First, there are a lot of benefits to being in the same space as the people that we work with. We’ve recently done a few days on-site at client offices and had forgotten just how easy it was to get things done when checking in with someone didn’t require a calendar invitation.
We can also carry forward the same digital-first mentality that the pandemic forced on us, and marry it with the reality of office life.
Here are a few digital-first practices that we’ve helped our clients adapt to that should absolutely be maintained:
Centralized Digital Communication
In 2019, internal digital comms were a mess. We’d email some of our colleagues, use Messenger for others, and some of the more tech-forward teams may have adopted Slack, but it had less than 25% as many users back then, so very few offices had a single, centralized place to go. The right answer will be different for every office, but the wrong answer will always be a chaotic mess of channels.
Consistent, Interactive Training
When managers could no longer start a new employee with a tour of the office, then hand them off to a co-worker to “show them the ropes,” we were forced to look much more closely at how we onboard our staff. Today, nearly every team has some combination of recorded videos, online checklists, and shared documents that new team members can peruse. All of that takes maintenance and commitment to keep it current and make sure that every hire gets the same high quality experience.
Shared Project Management Software
When we couldn’t see what each other was doing every minute of the day, it became necessary to share what we’re all up to in collaborative spaces like Asana, Monday, Wrike, etc. Use of project management software spiked — where it had previously been used extensively by development and project-based teams, it now seems that nearly everyone’s work is represented on a Kanban board somewhere. There’s a real risk that as we get comfortable in our offices again, we lose the benefits of being able to see what everyone else is working on, and how our tasks are contributing to the bigger picture.
Managing to Outcomes, not Hours
This one is more of a personal rant, but when we could no longer take mental attendance of our team’s presence in the office and peer over their shoulders to make sure that they weren’t scrolling newsfeeds, we were forced to shift our management to outcomes instead of hours. Yes, some companies implemented draconian screen- and even mouse-tracking software, but the majority of us realized that we care much less about how long it takes our people to get work done, than we do about they’re able to produce. This may not have a snappy software solution, but it’s the one that I’d most like to see maintained as we return to some version of office life.
See something we missed? We’d love to chat about your thoughts on return-to-office. Give us a shout at email@example.com