Five Ideas for Managing Your Office-First vs. Remote Dilemma

No matter what side of the fence you are on when it comes to structuring where your employees work from, there’s one reality. The decision will work for some and it will not work for others! 

Each person has their own unique life situation. A one size fits all approach may seem to make the most sense to your company, but what lens are you looking at this challenge from? Taking care of employees isn’t just about compensation and benefits, and managing employees is also not just about compliance. Certainly that has a role in your decision, but leading with it will almost guarantee that you see regrettable attrition. Today’s new game changing benefit is flexibility.

But what if your work environment doesn’t support flexibility? 

There’s no easy answer here. Sorry if that’s what you came here looking for. However, there are things that you can do to show respect for your employees that won’t create a huge uproar and will earn your team some big time points in the process.

1) Let your employees have fun.

This sounds easy and you likely think that you already do it. But if you aren’t having fun alongside your employees (regularly), they won’t feel empowered to let loose themselves. When your employees are working remotely they don’t have to worry about “big brother” watching and judging. They are in charge of their work output and the time management required to complete a deliverable, talk with teammates, innovate, organize, walk the dog, and so on. Normalize this in the office. The time away from teammates creates a certain social debt, and many employees will be eager to catch up on each other’s energy, since they don’t see one another daily! It might mean a social gathering in the office kitchen, a 90 minute lunch instead of 60 minutes, or an early out for happy hour, yoga class, gym or similar with a work bestie.  

2) Focus on employee performance.

This is hard to do. It shouldn’t be, but it is. Too often, leaders look at high performers as accomplishing their work effortlessly and want to challenge them to do even more. We don’t even do that to race cars, as too long in the red will result in a blown engine. Stop asking for more without giving anything in return! If the current role is in fact easy for them, promote! If you don’t, they are definitely leaving to find someone who will. Most employees throttle their output based on title and pay. What can you do to get the most out of an employee without overworking and creating burnout / resentment? One way is to provide a little more freedom and autonomy with how they get their work done. Government contracts are notorious for stringent time and attendance tracking. If your company falls into this category, offer comp time and similar where possible to allow for more employee flexibility. 

3) Communicate.

Explain why you are making the decision you are making. Lay out some guidelines, TRAIN your managers on how it should look first, then roll it out and let your managers do their job supporting their teams. Too often we put managers in positions to uphold policy, culture, and similar without giving them input or gaining buy-in. If pilots were trained like managers, no one would ever get on a plane. Communicate with empathy and not the iron fist! Remember, some will embrace returning to an office and others will reject the notion. It’s so often not what you say, but how you say it. For example, “We have met with the entire management team to identify how our teams will work moving forward” is much better than saying “We have determined how we will work moving forward”. Be vulnerable! If your office is going to be hybrid, but you prefer to be in the office most days for any number of reasons, say that you will be there, and you don’t expect others to put in your same level of attendance. Transparency is such a great way to earn the respect of your team members. 

4) Remain fluid.

Continuously evaluate what is working and for whom. There will be teams that don’t require the same amount of face time as other teams. There will be times that teams working in person together more often will be best for the project/company goals. Normalize this and avoid taking an approach that you carve in stone. Much like learning to manage your business during a pandemic for the first time, learn how to best manage your business post-pandemic. The rules have changed and continue to evolve. 

5) Practice what you preach.

However you decide to proceed, live the words presented to your employees. You want to earn respect and trust. Nothing hurts an employee like being told to do something you aren’t either willing to do, or aren’t interested in following along with.  

Office-first is still the prevailing work environment for most employers. That’s right, there are more people going into an office than working remotely. According to recent HubSpot research surveying 1,000 workers, 40% are in the office full-time or nearly full-time, with 32% working remotely full-time or nearly full-time, and hybrid comes in at 28%. And these numbers are changing almost every day. 

If remote and hybrid options aren’t possible for your team members, don’t just forget about them and sweep it all under the rug! Undoubtedly, they have family, friends, and neighbors who aren’t in the same position and are probably talking about how great things are working remotely! Take a proactive approach to acknowledging and rewarding your employees for the time and energy invested in the commute, loyalty to you and your customers, and the expenses they have to maintain their wardrobe, gas up, and battle stress that comes with managing it all.

As always, reach out if you need some ideas or want to chat about some of your own!