Return To Office Considerations

“Best Practice” Return to the Office Considerations

Driven by the collective imperative to keep our employees, families, and communities safe from the existential threat of the pandemic, businesses had to get creative and pivot…quickly. Thus began the large, natural experiment that sent many workers home. This forced businesses to test the veracity of long-held assumptions about the “best” way to work. As we’ve begun moving through (and hopefully out of) the pandemic, we have been grappling with the possibility of a “return to the office” plan. For me, this has been particularly interesting. Not just as a person employed, but also as an HR professional and leader at White Cup, a US-based, revenue intelligence software company.

Honestly, I have found the discussion somewhat bewildering, as it often appears that we must make either-or choices between everyone returning to the “norm” of workers sitting in an office for a standard 8-hour period M-F OR we are in an unstructured hellscape of everyone working from home, with no in-person contact, and culture deterioration.

Adapting to Remote Work Arrangements

First of all, there are many workers across the globe who don’t have the option to work from home. Let’s acknowledge and honor those essential workers for their sacrifice and commitment. Those of us even contemplating having some choice about when and where to work are not the totality of those doing important work for our societies. Second, distributed workforces are not new – I have always worked in a company where at least a few people on the core team were located in another city, state, or country, or who had team members working from home at least some of the time. We’ve been dealing with distributed teams and remote work for a while – and with reasonable results. That said, clearly, moving to 100% remote work has definitely not been the norm in the past.

In adapting to the remote work arrangements, White Cup, like many other companies, looked for “best practices” to guide our path. Employees could continue to do the important work supporting our customers, delivering product innovations, and providing sales and services to keep operations running. The interesting question is, what exactly is “best practice” for each company?

Unique Cultural and Operational Contexts

In my experience, “best practices” can be used to inform decisions, but organizations must apply their unique cultural and operational contexts to modify and adapt the practice to be “best” for them. For White Cup, it was critical to ensure we were having conversations with our teams in advance to set expectations. Continued conversations are also necessary to understand what is working, what needs to be adjusted, and how we could best support our teams and customers. Actually, this has resulted in several starts and stops in terms of returning to our office spaces. The flexibility that we credit to our employees, is attributed to the mindfulness of doing the best for each other and our communities.

Purposeful Communication

What we have found is that both remote and hybrid work arrangements demand intentional, purposeful, and more than usual communication. Not just daily check-ins, but also communication of key ground rules for the team, norms of behaviors that are expected, and ways to ensure out of sight doesn’t mean out of mind. Leaders and managers must be talking to their directs regularly (at least once a week, if not more).  This builds and creates trusting relationships that will ensure connection to each other as well as the organization’s vision, values, and key objectives. It takes time, effort, and work. But it’s worth it.

White Cup has grappled with balancing the safety of our employees and communities with keeping our organization productive and operational for our customers. I think we’ve been a good test case for being intentional in both areas. Our decisions have underpinned our success with adopting a primarily remote working arrangement and flexing as the situation requires us to change. This has been the “best practice” for us.

Return to the Office Considerations

While the vast majority of companies have already made the switch, back to the office, over to fully-distributed models, or in between to hybrid arrangements, certainty is not guaranteed, nor should it be expected. That is, “best practices” and your consideration of them, are still critical.  They will remain critical as long as variants continue to disrupt our expectations of “back to normal.”

What works for you and your company today may not work 6 months from now. How you understand yourself to be the most productive, happy, or safe while working may continue to change as time crawls forward. White Cup has found a model and parameters to work within that allow us to succeed. But, our system cannot and should not be heralded as the magic fix for every other organization.

The notion of “best practices,” in and of itself, seeks to track the most widely applicable strategies. That may be good enough for many, but when it comes to your business, your workforce, your livelihood, “good enough” might not be good enough. An excellent starting place, for true best practices, is watching for what is working within your company and listening to how your teams’ needs change.

Written By

Scottie Girouard

Scottie Girouard

VP of Human Resources, White Cup

Scottie Girouard joined White Cup as the Vice President of Human Resources in 2020. She has more than 20 years of experience in human resources, with expertise in HR strategy, operations and compliance; talent acquisition; employee relations and engagement.

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