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Posted By: Doug

In Q1, 2020, organizations scrambled to respond to WFH. Video conferencing replaced commuting and business travel; sweatpants became the business attire of choice. Without a nine to five routine and in-person managers calling ad hoc meetings and asking for off-schedule reports, workers became responsible for their time. As a necessity, they gained more authority to make decisions. Commute hours converted to work. Emails were written before bed. Productivity soared.

Today, companies large and small are deciding who should return to in-person work, when and where. The decision-making rationale and the data informing it will have profound implications for many organizations. What will be the impact on employee engagement and productivity and who will be responsible if/when there is slippage?

Human Resources leaders understand that employee engagement starts with communication and understanding; “why am I doing what I’m doing?” and, “what’s in it for me?” Now, we’re not talking about essential workers in manufacturing, health care, retail, etc. who need to be in-person to perform their roles. For everyone else who exceeded their goals with less management while working from home, how will they respond to management requiring their presence in the office…to be managed? How would you?

Besides the employee engagement/satisfaction/experience impacts, and the possibly countervailing ‘social’ aspects of the office, there are organizational design and process considerations related to a shift from WFH to in-person or hybrid. Some companies may feel ‘top-heavy.’ OKRs, individual goals, and compensation may need to be reevaluated as ‘responsibility,’ ‘authority’ and ‘success’ are seen through a new lens. Workflows and IT will evolve to take advantage of new-found efficiencies while scrapping approaches that no longer seem relevant.

Innovative companies that can harness and accelerate this transformation will thrive even more than they might naturally. Those that try to go “back to the way it was,” risk higher attrition, difficulty attracting new talent, decreased employee engagement and a potential double-digit drop in productivity. Who will be held responsible and what can be done to prevent it?


Doug []