How do we get people back in the office?

Mark Lewis
August 6, 2023
min read
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The Tug of War Between WFH and WFO

How do we get people back in the office? This is the top question I'm getting in private conversations at the moment.

It creates tension between WFH vs WFO and sends us down a path of 'solutions' like mandated days in the office or setting up perks to attract people to the office. Then it sparks all the debate about where we are more productive or collaborative… which is guaranteed to see us going in circles citing studies that support each argument.

Understanding the True Source of Tension

But we’re actually missing the point. The tension is not really about WFH vs WFO.It’s really about what senior execs believe is best for the organisation vs what employees believe is best. The decider for this type of tension has historically been ‘won’ based on where the power balance sits between employer and employee.

However, it’s not a good idea to solve this tension using power because it inevitably ends up with one party feeling hard done by…. and when the power balance shifts we all know what will happen!

Shifting the Focus: Creating a Sustainable Work Arrangement

So back to the question… how do we get people back in the office? First, reframe to: How do we create a working arrangement that works for our organisation? Then:

  • Identify a group of employees that make good representatives of the different teams in the organisation, be sure to include different levels of seniority.- Invite them to a workshop: “Designing our Flex Working Experience”
  • Have everybody share their ideal working arrangements and why from their perspectives. At a minimum include as an individual, as a manager, as a team and as an organisation. You can get more granular with audiences such as new starters, juniors, seniors etc.
  • Understand there will be compromises as a solution is massaged to work for all perspectives.
  • Document the key discussion points, tensions and outcomes, then share across a broader audience as a final check that nothing major was missed in the process.
  • Launch the policy as v1 for 6 months that will likely change, seek feedback and iterate with v2.

Navigating the post-pandemic work landscape requires a reframing of our understanding of work from home and work from office dynamics. The real issue is not about location, but rather about aligning what senior executives believe is best for the organisation with what employees feel is optimal.

It's a balancing act that requires inclusivity, transparency, and a willingness to iterate. Rather than dictating terms based on power dynamics, let's design our future workplaces collaboratively, acknowledging that change is the only constant. By doing so, we create not only a more productive environment but also a more harmonious one, where everyone feels heard, valued, and invested in the collective success of the organisation.

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