Adjusting to a Flexible Work Setting

When it comes to the decision of when and how to return to the office, many companies are trying to find the right balance between the needs of the organization and those of the employees. As you determine what approach is going to be best for your workplace, here are some of the issues to consider.

Acceptance of (yet another) change

Whether you have survived or thrived with the work-from-home adjustment, start mentally preparing for more possible changes. As a manager, you should already be planning for what the future work set up and routine will look like. Whether it’s back full-time, staying at home, or a hybrid (an interesting alternative that’s being actively discussed and debated), another change may be coming. 

As a manager, give your staff as much notice as possible for what the future will look like. If appropriate, start addressing it with team leaders or managers. Ask for their input. Find out what has worked as what has not. Make sure your preferences and ideas align with what’s best for the organization…check your motives. Even if you don’t have a set plan, though, at least communicate the steps you are taking to put a plan in place. In situations like this, silence is not golden.

As an employee, don’t be afraid to be proactive and ask your manager what your options will be. Be flexible and keep in mind that your preferences may not be what is best for the organization.

Keeping a work/life balance

Both you and your team members will need time to adjust to yet another change. Work/life balance is always a work in progress—you “tweak” as you go along. Be prepared for your current system to be “out of whack” and expect some bumps in the road. As a manager or team leader, don’t expect everyone to be on board with the plan right out of the gate. If a return to the office is what is best for the business, help your team ease into the adjustment as appropriately as possible. 

Consider a “sliding scale” of return, where you scale up to the number of days per week you will require over a period of time. As an employee, think about how you will adjust your current “down” or “me” time with a new schedule. Don’t let it fall by the wayside.

Time it properly

While vaccinations are rapidly allowing more freedom to return to the workplace, manage your expectations based on the normal cycles of business activity levels as they vary throughout a year. Expect your team to want to travel and have a “normal” summer (where staffing has traditionally been low due to vacations, time off, etc.). Consider setting your sights on having a plan up and running by the fall.

As an employee or team member, use those vacation days and time off that has been piling up since movement has been restricted. Recharge those batteries so you can hit the ground running, and be prepared and energized for the road ahead!

Expect non-acceptance

Some may see the pandemic change in workstyle as a preferential situation. If you are requiring a partial return to office, not everyone may be on board. There may be a wide variety of options for those seeking to stay at home full-time. Expect some attrition for this reason, but there will be plenty of job-seekers as well. Be ready!

There may not be a one-size-fits-all answer to returning to the office

Everyone has experienced the pandemic differently. It has caused great disruptions in many ways—physical well-being, mental health, change in lifestyle, etc. Despite the “Grand Plan” you have in mind, not everyone may be able to return to the system you devised. 

As we are not yet at the end of the pandemic, there is still a risk in asking people to assemble. Managing with flexibility and empathy has never been more important. Having an “all or none” attitude in this situation may not only cost you a valued employee, but it may affect the morale of an entire team, department or workplace.

Questions To Explore

Here are some questions to help think through some of the dynamics. They could be used as a springboard for a meeting discussion, and perhaps even an in-house survey of your employees.

  • Which return-to-work scenario is going to work best: Office full-time, hybrid, or remote full-time?

  • If you do go with a hybrid setting, how many days a week in the office should there be?

  • Is a staggered work schedule something that would work?

  • Will employees have any child-care concerns related to returning to the office?

  • How will you address concerns people may have about returning to the office (getting sick from a co-worker, public transportation, etc.)?

  • Are employees feeling unsettled about their roles and job security with another transition?

  • Do most employees feel it’s safe to return to the office, and if not, when?

  • Was your team more productive or less productive when working from home?

  • Did your team have any challenges with work/life balance when working from home?