Retooling as You Re-open the Office

You’ve heard of downsizing, rightsizing, and outsourcing. Now, I’m introducing outsizing. You heard it here first. Outsizing is adjusting the work model to the right balance of remote and in-office work.

Employees are balking at coming back to the office full-time. They discovered they can collaborate and be just as (if not more) productive working remotely at least part of the time.

Employers realized stable productivity and cost savings associated with travel and real estate. They are also encountering hiring and retention issues when requiring employees to come into the office full-time.

So, if a hybrid work model is the new reality, how does leadership decide the right balance and how do they re-tool to adjust for it?

1. Recognize the landscape has changed

Employees are unlikely to buy your argument that the job requires physical presence if results were positive over the past year. Instead, ground your argument for in-office presence in activities that are centered around idea generation and collaborative planning, such as project kick-offs and strategy sessions. These activities are often more efficient to accomplish in person.

2. Let the work be your guide

Once you’ve decided what work best lends itself to being in the office, decide what percentage each role engages in that type of work and build a model that reflects that cadence.

3. Make physical changes to match

Optimize in-office collaboration by altering the surroundings to suit it. If your office is segmented by closed doors, that doesn’t lend itself to the kind of collaboration that you’re trying to stimulate. Re-configure your office to include more formal and organic meeting space.

4. Adjust your mindset

Many leaders are mired in the visual contact model of assessing productivity and performance. If only there were a way to ensure that employees were productive out-of-sight. Good news–there is! If your assessment of performance hasn’t been grounded in results and metrics before now, this is just the push you need. The same analytics you would apply to outsourced workers, vendors, and consultants, you should be using with your own employees. Frequent communication, clear expectations, and productive check-ins are key to ensuring that employees have what they need to be successful and keep managers informed.

5. Set expectations but be prepared to adjust

Most employees want flexibility but don’t want to give up the office altogether. Include employees in decisions about how the model will work to invest them in the outcomes. Set expectations that balance flexibility and a cohesive culture, e.g., managers and their teams need to be in the office together 2 days a week and should plan their schedules to maximize group activities on those days. Communicate expectations up front but be flexible in implementation timing and adjust to feedback as needed.

Going back to a pre-COVID scenario is unlikely to be sustainable; we’ve over-adapted to flexibility. We’ve delivered on all of that ingenuity and agility we aspired to just over a year ago. Let’s capitalize on that and instead of trying to put the genie back in the bottle see where it takes us next.