Return to the Office: Actions Leaders Must Take Now, Part 1

This week marks a year since the world shut down for COVID. Most corporate workers retreated to their makeshift home offices, embraced an athleisure wardrobe, and perfected their Zoom skills. A year on, we are disruption-weary and are hopeful at the promise of a vaccine and a return to normal. But what does normal even mean anymore?

Not so Fast

Employees aren’t ready to ditch the short commute and sweatpants. A PwC survey found that a third of employees wanted to work from home full time, and the majority wanted a blend of remote and in-office working. And it’s not just employees. Fewer than 1 in 5 executives wanted to return to the pre-pandemic modes of working. Both employees and executives overwhelmingly agreed that remote working has been a success (83% employers and 71% employees), and 87% of executives anticipate making changes to their real estate holdings—either reducing it altogether or re-thinking how it’s utilized. Yet, 87% of respondents maintain the office still plays an important part in building relationships, reinforcing company culture, and developing talent.

In this 3-part series, we will explore what the Return to the Office means and how to balance flexibility, connection, and market realities.

Change happened

Like Rip van Winkle, you are waking up to a completely different landscape. We have altered the way we work, learned how to engage differently, and employees have increased their flexibility expectations. Leaders are challenged with determining how to develop and motivate their teams remotely, and we’ve pushed our technology capabilities. Now, we’re faced with integrating these changes into a 2019 retro way of working. This won’t happen successfully without proper planning.

Choose to manage change, not be managed by it

Unfortunately, COVID won’t likely be the last disruption. Plan now and take long-term, lasting action so that you’re insulated from chaos and can adapt more readily. Take an M&A approach— do the due diligence to get it right.

First, assess the past year, taking a data-driven approach (qualitative and quantitative):

  • What has worked, and where are the opportunities to capitalize on momentum?
  • What have been the challenges, and what needs to be shored up going forward?

Next, create a comprehensive change management plan to transition. Assess likely impacts on office space, talent, client relationships, travel, and behaviors. Plan for employee integration, culture preservation, performance consistency, policy enhancements, and cost implications of supporting in-person and remote work.

In our next 2-installments, we’ll do a deep-dive on getting your change management plan right with respect to managing talent and optimizing workspace.


Charlotte Ntreh and Barbara Milhizer are Partners at PeopleResults where they help clients build and sustain high-performing, effective and impactful organizations with measurable results.

 Charlotte:; Twitter @cntreh.