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Take It Slow on Return to Office


Young business professionals in office
Image: Halfpoint -
As enterprises prepare to reopen offices later this year, the return-to-office process has the potential to be just as disruptive as last year’s abrupt shift to WFH.
That’s the perspective shared in a recent post on our sister site, No Jitter, by IT expert Alan Shen of Unify Square, a software and services firm. Though Alan directs his cautions and advice toward IT teams, the situation he’s describing — and the impacts he’s warning against — will affect any enterprise organization charged with implementing the new work experience as the pandemic recedes.
Remote-work technology has been so effective that enterprise teams have settled into a new static configuration, Alan points out. When the enterprise is ready for the return to office, that static, functioning environment will likely fragment in ways the organization has never before seen — or supported.
“A dynamic hybrid model is just around the corner,” Alan warns, adding that if IT teams aren’t prepared for this disruption, “it’s more of a question of not if, but when chaos will ensue.”
IT’s situation has parallels for facilities/real estate and HR leaders as well. A return-to-office plan will necessarily make assumptions that just may not bear out. For example, when the time comes, employees’ willingness to return to the office may depend on factors such as the state of public transit in their area and their comfort with using it — which may diverge from assumptions made by both enterprise leaders and the employees themselves when the plan was originally put in place.
Likewise, the enterprise may find the philosophy it adopted as the basis for return to office may not work out in the real world. Many enterprises are crafting a model of hybrid work where employees are remote for individual work, and report to an office for collaborative efforts. But each team’s, and individual’s, understanding of what kind of work happens where may vary widely, creating strains on the system.
The plan, and the processes that support it, must be much more intentional than the way enterprises dealt with flexible work in the pre-pandemic time. The bad old days of office hoteling or hotdesking are a perfect example. Many enterprises rolled these functions out without enough planning for how best to make them work for people on a daily basis. The result, too often, was chaos and gaming of the systems meant to assign resources day to day.
Probably the best way to avoid the specific IT concerns that Alan writes about, as well as the office and employee issues, is to make the return to office a slow, measured process with plenty of time built in to adjust and redirect resources to support the way people actually behave, as opposed to the way the plan assumes they’ll behave. The key phrase from Alan’s headline is probably a good watchword for the whole process: “Get real.”