Stop Treating “Return to the Workplace” as Only a Logistical Puzzle

June 4, 2021 Jamie Notter

One of the benefits of being part of the Blue Cypress “family” of companies is that I am now “related” to a large number of super smart people, and I now get to hang out with them on a regular basis. Case in point, the other day I hopped onto a call with Rick Bawcum, CEO of Cimatri, a strategic IT consulting firm also here in the DC area, and the topic was “return to the workplace.” I wanted to hear his perspective as a tech guy on how organizations were thinking about the return to the workplace after we’ve all been remote for so long. His insight, however, went way beyond tech, as he made this incredibly important point:

What we’ve experienced over the last year is structural change.

When we all suddenly went remote last year, it felt overwhelming at the level of logistics. How do we get everyone the tech they need to work from home (and via video)? How do we adjust to parents of children who are now, effectively, home schooling? How do we make decisions when you can’t just stop by someone’s office to get their opinion on something? We made a ton of logistical and process changes, but what I think most of us haven’t realized is that those changes, when you ball them all together, represent a fundamental and structural shift in how we run organizations.

A structural change is when the basic rules of the game change—and can’t go back. The internet ushered in a ton of structural changes in the workplace (the subject of our first book, Humanize, 10 years ago). The way the internet transferred power—away from centralized institutions and towards individuals—was a huge structural change for society at large, of course, with impacts way beyond the workplace, but you get the picture.

I think the pandemic ushered in a new round of structural changes in the workplace, in four distinct areas:

  1. The relationship between organizations and employees.
  2. The way we collaborate.
  3. The way we supervise and manage accountability.
  4. The role of the work “place.”

I’m working on a white paper or ebook to flesh these ideas out some more, and we’re simultaneously launching a Quick-Action consulting project to help management teams make key culture decisions in these areas as they prepare to go back to the office. The return to the workplace should be in response to the deep, structural changes, not just a solution to the logistical puzzle.

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.