As an HR leader, if you are in the process of creating a return-to-workplace plan, there are a ton of logistics to consider in making sure your employees feel comfortable and safe.

Many companies are dramatically reducing their in-office workforce strategy which is no small task. With open and cool modern bullpen floor plans, human resources are scrambling now to bring people and teams back together while dramatically changing the landscape of what normal is. Is it an office? Is it virtual? Is it a hybrid model?

Also – are cubicles going to make a comeback for greater separation? Are elevators going away in favor of escalators? Do you wear your mask for your entire in-office day? I think we can all agree and sigh in exasperation that wearing a mask for any number of hours constantly is miserable in the best of circumstances. (P.S. Thank you, essential workers, who are literally doing this every day and for ridiculous hours on end.)

We are a human workforce – and we’re all different

The way we see workplace culture has changed overnight. We may not have been ready, but humans are amazing adapters in moments of, “WTH?” And we come together and have ingenuity on our side because that’s how we roll. We also love our community and tribe, whatever that looks like for us individually.

“So, when employees “show up” for work, they are who they already are – shaped by the many conditions of life that transcend economics alone,” spoke Ed Hodge, Executive VP and CHRO for Trinity Health with Gallup. “That is the backdrop against which an employee may approach the agenda for the day/week/month/year and could influence leaders’ near- and long-term plans,” Ed continued. “Now more than ever, leaders must appreciate that employees are not robots or algorithms. They are human beings with wants, needs, problems, emotions, ideas, and aspirations.”

How employees work best and who to return should be asking these questions:

  • Do you love physically working in the same space as your team?
  • Are you an introverted loner who wants to just hammer out your work as an individual contributor at home?
  • Is your circadian rhythm set to afternoon and night owl productivity over crushing it in the mornings?
  • Do you need that clear delineation between the office and home?
  • What additional resources do you need in order to perform your job at home? Think ergonomics, children, internet over-capacity, and space constraints.

Well, we’ve certainly had some thoughtful reflection and time to figure that out in the last few months. Many people suddenly being thrust into work from home environments had no place to quietly focus and work due to becoming all the tools in the toolbox. Frankly, a lot of us didn’t even know we had that in the toolbox. “Sure, I made a human(s) from scratch – wait – now I need to teach them algebra and history and English and… what?!”

Many are celebrating working from home and productivity rates are, despite fears, up with every company we work with. That’s despite the fact that we have people who have no space, have multiple people trying to work in the same space, or are just alone and lonely – and creatures who need to be with others. The struggle is quite literally real. And it’s not immediately fixed by throwing everyone (cough) back in the same attractive modern bullpen.

Welcome to the future! Your new “office” is… super flexible.

Headquarters and campuses? Solid maybe and very much dependent on a fully functional and readily available vaccine. Human quarters and human experience – now we’re talking. If we look at the landscape of our employees and map them based on how they work best, then we’re leveling up and seeing the vision of what return-to-workplace really needs to look like. It’s culture and human-driven.

The idea of a big HQ, that’s old school, it’s so first quarter of 2021. We’ve propelled into another time, the future of now has slammed into us whether we were ready or not (here we come, Mars). Here’s where we get to reimagine and redefine what a company looks like – which is possibly one of the coolest (and challenging) positions to be in for us as leaders. It’s solidly undefined, so welcome to the blackboard, kids. A lot of your employees may not want to return to a traditional office environment, are afraid to do so (legitimately unless a vaccine is deployed), and there are many that need for delineation between work and, “I’m no longer answering your emails because I’m done and with family,”  or heck, with myself.

Essential brick and mortar business? The struggle is real.

According to Gartner, 86% of companies are relying on HR to reopen organizations, including timing, employee health, engagement, and feeling comfortable and safe returning. Our clients are using Espresa scheduling software for a contactless return to the workplace.

For example, I met with the former chief people officer of Xceed Financial Credit Union (now Kinecta), Kelly Ritchey-Davoren. She discussed the challenges of COVID and being an essential business with 95 percent of her workforce being bi-coastal and on-site. “First we were working through all the technology, making sure people had the tools to be home and work from home as quickly as possible,” Kelly discussed. “Then we needed to immediately start attending to this new and weird feeling our Associates were experiencing due to not seeing their workmates and not having the more contemporaneous and spontaneous engagement that they love. And that’s what Espresa enabled for us. And because we were positioned to deploy it within two-weeks, we first did a soft deployment with our leadership group to make sure we had the level of knowledge, ability, and familiarity required. Then we went very quickly for the rest of our workforce.”

Read our recent blog, including a client use case on pre- and post-COVID “Welcome Home: What HR and People Teams Need Right Now to Keep Cultures Intact and Thriving”

For our own company, we have a distributed workforce and our headquarters in Palo Alto, California. So, we asked our employees how they felt about getting rid of HQ. Unanimously, it was group decided that we were okay with that. In fact, the reduction in commutes was welcome. The hours gained, expenses saved, and carbon footprint reduced – bam. We also together decided to have mini satellite office pop-ups as needed in the future when it’s safe to do so.

The important thing is that we decided together – and we reserve the right to take it back if we want. The main idea is that we are a work family and friends (!!!), and we decide these things largely (and within reason) together, transparently. We also use our own platform to keep our work family intact with communities, wellbeing, lifestyle benefits, challenges and achievements, and rewards and recognition.

Your people are bottom’s up redefining what you are. And it’s specific to individuality – and it’s embracing of the greater big, the greater you that is the organization and organism together, and the great you that is the individual.


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