After 15 months of working from home – and three months of planning our return to the office – we’re reopening our doors on June 7.
The mask mandates in our city have been lifted, many on our staff have chosen to get vaccinated, and we’re ready to re-enter the community we’ve built at Cognito Forms headquarters.
In preparing for this day, we’ve experienced our share of challenges. We’ve seen delays, questions and even a bit of nervous apprehension. But, that’s all part of the process.
Returning to the office after a global pandemic is an enormous task. It’s a massive change for everyone involved. And it will likely be every bit as challenging as the abrupt shift to remote work we experienced in March of 2020.
Here’s what we learned planning our return to the office. Hopefully, it will help you plan yours.
1. Involve your team immediately.
If you do nothing else in this article, do this: Seek input from your team. It’s extraordinarily important to get your team involved in your planning and decision making right up front. This is the first and likely the most important step in the process.
Listen to how your team feels about returning to the office. Ask them open-ended questions about when and how they want to return. (Not sure what to ask? Use this template.)
However you do it, find a way to get their buy-in from the outset. Then, be prepared to adjust your plans to better meet your team’s new and evolving needs.
2. Prepare to be more flexible.
You may need to stretch your thinking about how your teams will interact once back in the office. After all, a lot has changed in the past 18 months.
In our organization, we’ve learned to effectively work remotely. This has empowered us to expand our hiring footprint. It’s also enabled us to adopt a more hybrid working model across the board.
For example, we’ve conducted hybrid staff meetings since last autumn. Now, we’re quite accustomed to having some team members in the room and others remote. While it required us to solve technical challenges and adapt our behaviors, it’s been totally worth it.
Our new hybrid working model
- Individual employees will have equivalent office/home workstations
- Team members work 5 days/week
- All non-remote employees are expected to be in-office 3 days/week
- Teams will coordinate which days to ensure they’re in-office together
- Office will group teams together in “pods”
- Pods will include videoconferencing for remote/offsite employees
- Office will have small conversation areas to enable quiet time
Please note: This model will certainly adjust and adapt as we work in it.
Having been on countless Microsoft Teams calls over the past 18 months, we’ve expanded our videoconferencing capabilities so teams can collaborate from anywhere.
At the same time, we’ve added small 1-2 person casual spaces within the office to give people workspace away from their desks and team areas.
3. Order equipment early.
Expect delays when purchasing new computers, monitors, docking stations, furniture, coffee cups… anything. With production slowdowns, container vessels stuck in the Suez Canal and so many other complicating factors, these items can be hard to get.
Plus, choosing the right technology takes time. For example, our plans for a hybrid work environment had us testing different videoconferencing systems, and experimenting with office layouts, before we could ultimately purchase the equipment we needed.
While we simply won’t be able to have the office exactly how we want it on the day of our return, that’s okay. It brings me to my final point.
4. Don’t rush.
If everything isn’t perfect on Day One, don’t feel bad – but do communicate that to your team. And set expectations appropriately.
In our case, we’re making the office available on June 7. However, no team members are required to be here. Everyone is welcome to take their time and come back when they feel comfortable.
After all, it’s going to take us time to finish outfitting the space with all the equipment we want. And who knows how we may rearrange furniture once we start using the office again?
The past 18 months have taught us how to comfortably work during near-constant transition. They’ve helped us both refine and expand our communication. And we’ll take these lessons forward with us as we return to the office.
We hope these lessons will do the same for you.