Here’s why your company should consider the same strategy:
When teams set the rules, you’ll have fewer exceptions
Of course, a clearly defined plan saves a lot of headaches for HR and senior management … but only at first glance. The reality is that people’s lives have changed over the past 18 months. Some teams have thrived remotely. People have moved. Children’s schools have changed. And some employees may have lingering health concerns.
Companies that try for one-size-fits-all policy will quickly realize that such a narrow approach means having to manage more legitimate exceptions. At a team level, however, there is likely already familiarity around individuals’ unique situations, making it easier for them to decide how to accommodate exceptions or, better yet, which plans require minimal exceptions.
Trusting your teams builds stronger bonds
Many people are feeling understandably anxious and uncertain about going back to the office. As opposed to imposing blanket requirements or restrictions, companies should use this moment as an opportunity to show their trust and confidence in the choices of their teams.
Use corporate policies like unlimited vacation as a jumping-off point to empower your teams to be responsible and accountable and reward them with greater autonomy.
Being flexible allows for the widest range of options
There’s no one answer to the what’s the ideal return-to-office plan. Some people are eager to get back to the office. Some people have fallen in love with working from home and some people prefer a hybrid approach.
Companies don’t have to make a divisive choice. They can instead provide a range of options and schedules for their teams to choose from. For some teams, this might mean coming into the office every day. For others, it might look like half days every other day, or simply a bi-weekly, in-office meeting. It’s the team’s prerogative.
Save the unilateral decisions for when it really counts
Imposing a one-size-fits-all policy at the onset risks alienating your employees. Moreover, whatever single plan you adopt may not be the most effective option for every team. Companies should instead save the sweeping mandates for true business priorities.
Let’s say you really want training to be conducted in person or want your sales team to prep for big client pitches in the office. Many companies will likely need to require employees to continue to reside within a commutable distance to the office to ensure such meetings remain feasible. But outside of these kinds of ad hoc situations, teams should be given leeway with where they choose to spend the majority of their work time. If you’re providing greater flexibility in your day-to-day policies, then your employees are likely to be more understanding of the times when you have to act unilaterally.
Whatever plan you adopt will have to change
The pandemic continues to affect businesses and people in new and unexpected ways. In order to have an effective return-to-office plan, companies need to be prepared for the inevitable: that the landscape will continue to change and that their own internal plans will have to adapt accordingly.
Why not adopt flexibility and empower the people that are affected by the plan to make and amend policies as their team’s needs evolve?
The bottom line
The job of CEOs, senior management and HR teams is not to tell their employees where and how to work, but to support how their individual employees and teams work best. While this transition will be unavoidably iterative, adopting a flexible policy from the beginning and showing your teams that you trust their decision-making sets the tone for a collaborative, trusting and adaptable relationship for the long term.