As COVID cases are dropping and the vaccines are available, companies are looking to see when (if?) they are going to bring people back to offices. There are likely to be all kinds of flavors of this, ranging from:
- We want everybody back, Monday through Friday.
- We need some people back full time, others can still WFH.
- Everyone needs to be in the office 2-3 times a week and WFH the rest.
- Everyone can stay WFH, but those who prefer to come in can.
- Everyone stays WFH
And these don’t include flexible hours, people staying part-time, etc. There are going to be a LOT of models. There is no one best way for every company, but there are some consistent steps you will want to consider as you manage work schedules changes (again). These include:
- Consider ALL of your stakeholders. This means listening not just to executives who feel that people are more productive at the office or the employees who feel that they are missing out on promotional opportunities by working from home. Be sure that your support staff (HR, IT, security, etc.) is also in a position to support those who are coming back (or staying home).
- Be clear to everyone about your reasons for the schedule changes. If you have data that supports that teams are more productive in the office, then share it. If you have data that shows that people are still getting promoted at the same rate during WFH, share that, too. And don’t forget health department data on infections, positivity rates, etc. Use good information, rather than anecdotes, drive your decisions and communicate about the data.
- Track metrics of success and adjust the schedules as necessary. Whether it is what was mentioned above, rate of infections, use of PTO, turnover, absenteeism, or something else, have conversations about what success looks like. Then measure progress towards it. The data may allow you to accelerate your plans or alter them in some other way.
- Check in with your stakeholders as the revised policies are implemented. Sometimes we think that people who initially support change will always be in favor of it and those who are resistant stay that way. Keep asking stakeholders what they need to continue to support, or to become supportive, of the changes.
- Communicate the metrics. Whether it’s through an online dashboard or a regular e-mail, keep people apprised of progress (or lack thereof). Transparency helps to control the rumor mill and provides reasons for altering the initial plan.
Going back to “normal” requires the same level of change management skill as implementing something different. Be sure that you apply these techniques to help implement and manage schedule changes as you navigate through COVID.
Going back to “normal” work schedules is going to take as much change management skills as WFH did. Here are some thoughts on implementing the new normal more effectively.