In or Out of the Office: That is the Question. Or, is it?
Once again, the topic of returning to the office is back on the agenda. Several big name companies have declared everyone must return – ostensibly because they have “an office culture” (whatever this means). Others have reversed course or delayed their returns until further notice. CEOs are alternately applauded or vilified for their return to office decisions.
Most of the conversations about returning to the office reduce the decision to a binary question: will we be in or out of the office? Yet is this the right question? On its own, it certainly does not add clarity or help people to make decisions about when and how we return to the office.
I advise the CEOs I work with to think more strategically about this decision. In fact, in earlier articles, I identified questions CEOs should consider before saying “yes” or “no” to their return-to-office plan. For example:
1) What do you lose by not being together in person?
In other words: Of all the things you do to sustain and grow your businesses, what benefits most from being together? These are the things leaders must address, irrespective of if, when, or how they return to centralized offices. Read more here: When and How Do We Return to the Office?
2) What are the most important relationships for your business?
Rethinking the office requires rethinking relationships. It’s about identifying not only which relationships matter most, but also understanding the role proximity plays in cultivating those relationships. Nearly everyone’s business context has changed. So what you once knew about relationships and the role of proximity probably also changed. Further, your answer to the question may not be the same as others’. Be sure to pose the question outside your organization as well.
3) What critical work outcomes do you need to be successful?
Work is no longer defined (or constrained) by a place. We exist in the ongoing paradox of getting things done without the benefit of direct connection, while simultaneously longing for serendipitous exchanges, casual interactions, and the community of shared time and place. Thus, real change for the office requires rethinking work and focusing on outcomes. Learn more here: The Future Office is Not About Place
Together, the answers – and perhaps more importantly, the conversations the questions elicit – illuminate what’s critically important to the organization to successfully achieve its objectives. They highlight the people, capabilities, and practices you must retain or support irrespective of your in- or out-of-office decision. This elevates the conversation and promotes a more strategic response.
In or out of the office: that is the question. Or is it?