April 29, 2021

As the world begins to emerge from the global pandemic, CEOs are embarking on their next unprecedented organizational challenge: defining a Return-to-Office Plan for the post-Covid world. The solutions CEOs may use for an effective Return-to-Office Plan are far from one-size-fits all. There are, however, a few guiding tenants which, when applied, can contribute to the foundation of an effective, sturdy plan.

As an executive search firm, we have witnessed the diverse needs of companies as they rise to redefine the working norms expected of boards, executive teams, and the overall organization.

Constructing a viable plan is complicated. Competing inputs require priority consideration – and these considerations may come in direct conflict with one another. By focusing on a few guiding principles, CEOs can architect a best-in-class plan purpose built for their organization.

Start with a Focus on Values & Culture

Culture and values create the foundation of any organization. Without these, organizations will falter. Therefore, it is crucial that values and culture serve as the critical benchmark for decisions regarding the Return-to-Office plan. What is our pact with our employees? Will our new work structure honor and serve our customers at established and expected levels? Will this decision in any way erode the organization’s core culture & values?

CEOs should not expect to return to a pre-pandemic normal. Instead, they must embrace the long-term impacts of Covid-19 – such as remote work, geographically-dispersed teams, and collaboration through technology innovations. CEOs should view this return as an opportunity to build upon existing values and culture within the new working paradigm and beyond.

Through the continued support of virtual cultural building activities and the embrace of in-person activities – like the resurgence of “water-cooler” conversations and planned in-person employee days – CEOs can ensure organizational values and culture are not only preserved but re-energized.

Create a Mechanism to Stay Current on the Evolving Regulatory Landscape

Contemporary data about regulatory factors is necessary for any plan. Data sources may include Federal, State and Local regulations as well as input from industry groups and Union representation. CEOs leading global organizations must take greater measures to ensure that the compliance and vitality of their plan is harmonized with an array of convening bodies.

Recognizing that impactful regulations are oftentimes complex in their interpretation is important. Clearly assigning team resources to monitor and communicate with specific regulatory bodies is something which should be done. These assigned resources can be internal team members as well as external advisors. Without complete, updated, and well-understood data, Return-to-Office plans risk being out of step.

While CDC and state specific guidelines may advise safety protocols, capacity constraints and Return-to-Office realities such as workforce availability, supply chain timelines and competitive business strategies must be interpreted and implemented by CEOs and their executive teams.

Lead with Communication & Transparency

At times of crisis, CEOs know communication is among their most vital tools. At the onset of Covid-19, company-wide transparency and robust communication engendered organizational trust and helped to sustain operational success. Now, as companies begin to strategize the next chapter, CEOs must turn to this playbook once more.

Communication and transparency will heavily affect talent recruitment and retention as Return-to-Office plans are set up. Individual employee concerns and needs will differ substantially. CEOs who stay unflinchingly honest about the realities of the present and transparent about the future state will impact morale and employee engagement.

CEOs are well-served to remain direct, empathetic, accessible, and open to ensure plans serve to propel and unify their organizations. In continuing to employ impactful tactics – such as virtual town halls, real-time employee newsletters and regular direct, leader-led phone calls – CEOs can understand and address the concerns and uncertainties within their organization. Regardless of company size, location, product or service, CEOs who emphasize consistent bidirectional communication will succeed in developing the right Return-to-Office plan for their employees and shareholders.

Managing a Hybrid Workforce

When widespread lockdowns swept across the world last year, leaders swiftly pivoted their teams and business strategies. Through video conferencing, virtual training sessions and reimagined standard processes CEOs and their leadership teams successfully navigated their businesses through uncharted territory.

Shocking to many, despite often radical changes productivity was not halted and in certain cases efficiencies and output increased. Yet, employees ranging from entry level to c-suite executives have become increasing hungry to return to in-person work, at least part of the time. In response, the hybrid-workforce is emerging as a top Return-to-Office strategy. By blending the best practices of in-person and remote work, CEOs preserve the flexibility of working from home, enable the success of geographically dispersed teams and support organizational agility while reducing technology fatigue, maintaining employee engagement, and safeguarding company culture.

To successfully manage hybrid workforces, CEOs must remember that one size does not fit all. Companies, business units, and individual employees will require a different combination of remote and in-person work to optimize success. As a result, CEOs should put in place processes that embrace technology as a primary communication tactic, build culture through virtual engagement and secure overall operational agility. By developing best practices for hybrid workforce management now, CEOs can best support the business needs of today and the opportunities of the future.

Now is the time for CEOs to reimagine how their organizations operate in the future. With the right approach, opportunities exist to enhance employee engagement, improve operations, and foster innovation. Return-to-office planning offers CEOs the chance to engage their team’s and break new ground which can accelerate the creation of shareholder value.

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