"The right question is usually more important than the right answer."
Mary: Hey Jim, good to see you!
Jim: Good to see you too. Thanks for connecting - I’ve been hearing about some plans to go back to the office, but honestly, I’m kind of worried.
Mary: I know, right? How will we know it's okay go back?
Jim: I don’t know, but it seems that we’re working pretty well remotely.
Mary: I agree - I miss seeing people in person, but for now, I’m okay with this set-up.
Jim: How do you think the decision and timing will be made?
Mary: Not sure, but if you asked me, I’d feel better if they...
Leaders everywhere are asking themselves questions about how to get their organizations back on track in the coming days, weeks, and months. But if they want better answers, they need to ask better questions. These are the types of questions that need answers:
Companies and organizations are anxious to return to the workplace for a variety of reasons. “Getting back to business” is a vital imperative. Making the best use of the physical office is a major driver in collaboration, congeniality, and culture, as well as capitalizing on the physical asset. For now, the physical office will remain mostly under-utilized.
However, a good reminder: the most valuable asset of any organization are the people, not the office. And at this moment, people are “getting back to business,” albeit remotely. While remote working has its own challenges, feeling safe and confident in the workplace is not one of them. As we consider a move back to the office, the most important consideration will be the psychological challenges of feeling safe and confident.
Most of the discussion about coming back to the office are being guided by the “rule of 6 feet,” sanitizing surfaces, handwashing, and the various (and important) CDC guidelines. And while these look like “the answer” to making offices safe, the larger challenge of making people feel safe needs to be more effectively addressed, and can be done so in a way that benefits both the employees and the organization. In our efforts to find “the answer” to going back to the office and making employees feel safe (and actually being safe!), we have overlooked one of the most obvious and valuable resources – the employees themselves.
Years ago, the famous management consultant, Peter Drucker, said: “If you want to know what people are doing, ask them.” If we did a slight rearrangement of that statement, we could add: If you want to know how people are feeling, ask them.” (Oh, and by the way, you could also ask them how effective remote work is for them!) Ask employees questions such as: What do they fear most? What are milestones that would make it easier? How would you address the return? Surveying employees would give the company leadership both the pulse of the organization, and ideas about how to best return.
These surveys could go further and give management a true read on how well the remote work experience (experiment) is working for people. Companies and organizations may find that much of the work that people did in-office was by default, and could be done more effectively at home. What do your employees think?
Armed with real data from our most valuable asset - people - these discussions will guide how we might “get back to work,” and create safer, and more effective, work environments.