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Many are asking for assistance with the strategy and mechanics associated with returning to work and we felt compelled to share some of what we have learned. For this effort we leveraged the knowledge and insight of two incredible leaders - Darsie Rogers and Brad Moses - as their understanding of complex challenges and hybrid work environments is superior, thank you both.

Across the United States, governors, mayors, and business leaders are assessing the risk and mitigation measures associated with “opening back up.” LSDS is working with numerous leaders in many industries to assess and plan for the future. Why return to work? What will the workplace look like? How will it work if…? are all key questions we are helping great teams like yours work through. We believe the 2019 workplace isn’t coming back post pandemic, nor should it in most cases. We know you have managed incredible changes to remain productive during the pandemic. Returning to work is more than an aspirational goal for many, it is an imperative.

Why return to work? The reasons we hear are many.

From the anecdotal “I miss the office” to the necessary “production has lagged while logged hours has increased” to somewhere in between “culture has eroded” and “we need to reinvigorate our team.”

Whatever the reasons, we encourage you to conduct a detailed cost benefit analysis and consider the human component of your organization as first steps. A comprehensive plan, coupled with detailed preparation and messaging to the workforce is essential before you throw open the doors.

Understand the current situation: Cost-benefit analyses are an objective method for leaders to understand impact as they explore potential solutions. Use this traditional tool as part of your research and analysis. However, the pandemic has affected the way many in the workforce view in-office attendance. Does your leadership team understand employees' concerns, and can they apply transformational leadership to the human dimension of your workplace? It is this people centric approach to rejoining a workplace with hybrid attendance that will ultimately be the determining factor in your return-to-work success.

Regardless of the type of industry, all leaders will need to work through a few common variables to return to work successfully. Assessing your current workforce will allow an appropriate base of understanding of the change in the human dimension of your organization (subjective at the C-Suite level). We've already mentioned the importance of a cost benefit analysis to your organization (objective at the resource management and directors level).

A method to determine the current human dimension can be done quickly with the below assessment tool, when informed with leader inputs, surveys, focus groups and your knowledge of your team. Historically, this model has been used successfully in determining how organizations optimize talent, adjust training or on-boarding methods, and modify communication methods, or who needs to simply leave. It’s a good start point. However, the current environment has limited leaders' ability, at all levels, to actively engage and assess their workforce. Some new considerations to this model are: What measures of accountability have been emplaced since we began to work remotely? Have the “unwilling-unable” employees always been this way, and who’s talked to them about it? We would also suggest leaders consider “unfulfilled” to the below assessment tool as well to give a better perspective of the human dimension of their current organization. Each employee’s capabilities, goals and aspirations must be understood and factored into the return-to-work plan.

We’ve considered four recommended focus areas for an executive mindset and strategic focus toward resolution. Risk-understanding, effective communication, empathy vs. accountability, delegation.

Risk-Understanding: All leaders need a different type of review of safety in the workplace and clear understanding of who owns the risk and the mitigation measures. Leaders must be ready and empowered to handle unique challenges. (i.e a teammate informs their leadership that they won’t, or are medically unable, to receive a vaccination…and they’re critical to the success of the organization). Senior leaders must know and manage the legal implications of decisions to avoid what could be seen as possible discrimination against the have (vaccine) and have-nots.

Communication: Prior to returning to the office and engaging in a hybrid work model, communicating the compelling need, safe to work procedures and the processes that will be applied, will be vital. This is a methodical approach through all methods of communication. Supplementing traditional communication processes with anonymous questions and concerns will greatly reduce the apprehension many may feel about returning to work.

When teammates return to the workplace, the methods leaders use to communicate in real time (verbally and non-verbally) must ensure understanding of the message to a decentralized team. If you are sharing key information with a teammate who is physically in the office, what will ensure the same messages and information flow reaches those who are working remotely in this hybrid model? The displacement of people will increase leaders' time spent ensuring information flow and accuracy of information. We must build into the applied routines and behaviors of leaders through preparation and oversight once we are back to work in this new model. Leaders will need to think through and can be coached on how they provide clear and consistent messaging. Time management must become a critical task in the hybrid model. Leaders will have to adapt meeting rhythm changes and technical modification to “flatten” communication.

Empathy vs. Accountability: Think through and be prepared for this to change and invert over time. Initially, a higher degree of empathy toward employees returning to work will be critical. However, for any organization to thrive, accountability to “produce” will rapidly become more and more important.

Delegation: How are you empowering leaders in your organization to execute with a measure of independence? In most organizations there are subcultures (HR, finance, operations, etc.). How are leaders applying the above three factors to focus collaboration when team dynamics are required for rapid problem solving?

Our team at LSDS knows this is an incredibly challenging time. As we engage leaders and organizations across multiple industries, we will continue to share lessons learned and common trends. Our next focus area will be leading decentralized high functioning teams.

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