Reopen Your Office in a Way that Works for Everyone

September 17, 2021 Jamie Notter

That, of course, is much easier said than done. I can tell you right now, you’re not going to find a cookie-cutter solution, and it’s probably going to require an iterative approach, trying it one way, seeing how it works, and then adjusting. But even though the eventual solution is still unclear to you, you do need to start with a disciplined approach to strategy, and that’s what’s missing in most people’s Return to Work (RTW) plans. To solidify your RTW strategy, start with these three steps:

Step 1: Start with culture. Until you understand and adapt your culture to the deeper structural changes that have happened to the workplace since the pandemic started (download our free ebook for more on that), your reopening plans are going to be continuously off track. You need to make some important decisions about how much customization your employees can expect, how collaboration will change in the new set up, and how will you be managing supervision and accountability. We’ve created a workshop to help you answer those questions. When you start with a clear commitment to how your culture will respond to these changes, the rest of the planning is easier.

Step 2: Develop principles to guide your technology decisions. Don’t jump right away into how many cameras you need in the conference rooms or how many software licenses you need. Instead, articulate a set of higher-level principles around tech and software. The culture decisions you made in step one will impact your direction here, but it’s almost about deciding what kind of IT culture you’re going to have. Will you be able to stick to the predictability and centralization of a command-and-control IT culture, or will you need to be more agile and adaptive to user needs? Does IT need to focus more on speed and embrace progress over perfection? By the way, it helps if you have a technology partner who is actually strategic to help you with that (we know several, so contact us if you need a referral).

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Step 3: Identify priorities for the next three months. Your goal for the next year is the title of this blog post: reopen the office in a way that works for everyone. So what are the 3-5 priorities you need to accomplish in the next three months that will move you successfully to that annual goal. These are not the only 3-5 things you’re going to do, but they are the ones that are higher priority. For example, if you have an unusual number of new hires starting in the next couple months, but your office isn’t open yet, you may need a RTW priority this quarter around rolling out your new virtual onboarding process (that so far has been done haphazardly). Sure, you’ll also be sending out the staff survey about tech needs while working remotely, but because that’s not one of your quarterly priorities, you’ll make sure it doesn’t get in the way of the onboarding roll-out. There will also be sequencing issues. Like, if your office lease is going to be renewed soon, that obviously will push your “office space renovation planning” priority up in the queue.

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At the end of the quarter, you’ll review your progress on your priorities and have a frank conversation at the leadership level about what worked, what didn’t, and why. Then you’ll set new priorities for the next quarter. And rinse and repeat. This is how you will manage the iterative nature of this challenging task. You learn and make new decisions at least every three months. It’s the only way to reopen your office in a way that works for everyone.

Jamie Notter

Jamie is an author and growth strategist at PROPEL, where he helps leaders integrate culture, strategy, and execution to achieve breakthrough performance and impact. He brings twenty-five years of experience to his work designing culture-driven businesses, and has specialized along the way in areas like conflict resolution and generations. Jamie is also the co-author of three books—Humanize, When Millennials Take Over, and The Non-Obvious Guide to Employee Engagement—and holds a Master’s in conflict resolution from George Mason and a certificate in Organization Development from Georgetown, where he serves as adjunct faculty.
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