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Come back! Offices will have to change

An entrepreneur I just spoke to is anxious.  She can feel that the company culture she built over the past decade is at risk, or at least slipping from her control.  The close comradery of her office has been an important ingredient of the secret sauce that made her distribution company special and successful.  Now as we emerge from our home pandemic bunkers, how will entrepreneurs lure their staff back to the office for a culture recharge?

If the comment section of this recent Globe and Mail article is any indication, her anxiety is warranted; many office workers aren’t keen to return to the office.  An article in Fast Company even suggests that more than half of employees would rather quit than return to headquarters.  It might give my friend some comfort that there are also lots of folks like Nkechi Oguchi chomping to get away from working at home.  Certainly, this is a not topic among the business in my circle.

There’s no doubt that this trend will impact all aspects of business.  My friend is most concerned with how to align her company’s working conditions with her staff’s needs so they will to return.  After all, she’s not the stick type and is searching for some carrots.  Since we do a lot of office interiors at Morinwood, I thought my take on this might be useful.

  1. It’s clear that if you want your folks to return happily you’re going to have to work at it.  You may be able to force some folks back but the very best people have the power to walk.  You’ll have to work to keep them happy.
  2. Focus on the things that don’t work well in the home office and make sure those same pain points don’t exist in the office.
  3. After the initial novelty, it can be lonely at home.  So make your workplace one where positive in-person connections happen.
  4. The tech sucks at home.  So make sure your internet connection rocks, and you have high-quality meeting rooms and seamless video conferencing setups.
  5. People hate commuting.  Can you subsidize your staff’s transit costs?  Or find a way to make the long drive less unpleasant?  Paid parking or even a monthly Audible credit might go a long way?  How many days a week do they NEED to be in the office?
  6. The pandemic has meant less face time with managers and fewer feelings of appreciation among staff. It’s more important than ever that your manager has great people skills.  Keep your weekly in-person one-on-one structure strong, so that there are lots of positive interactions inside your building.
  7. Offices are good for training, connection, and learning.  Like in the previous point, pay attention to how well those sessions are done.
  8. How safe do they feel at the office?  Openly discuss the status of your HVAC infrastructure and whether an upgrade would improve indoor air quality.  Are your desks adequately distanced?  Is the lunchroom large enough?  I can guarantee that your physical space needs some reconfiguration to suit the new reality (shameless plug, we do that stuff)
  9. Maybe come to peace with the fact that skilled staff is now more easily able to work for more than one organization.  Have the flexibility to keep them working on some of your projects rather than losing them altogether.
  10. Don’t expect it to be all 2019 any time soon.  This will be a transition for all of us!