Return to Office - 8 Tips for Today’s Leaders

September 2021 | By Danielle Hochstein, Ph.D.

If you’re a people leader, the past year hasn’t been easy. While the pandemic strained supply chains, changed consumer and customer needs, and put into question strategic growth plans, it also put a spotlight onto new employee needs around wellbeing and engagement. All of these topics have one thing in common: You, as a leader, are tasked with adapting to all these challenges and making the most of these changes. While many initially thought these shifts might be temporary, the reality has set in that they may be here to stay—and that more changes are on the horizon.

RTO Social Distanced Meeting

We are now at yet another turning point. There are new challenges tacked on to what is expected of you as a leader: The Return to Office. While the planning is initiated at the organizational level, you play a significant role in executing RTO plans successfully. This most likely means transitioning your teams into a hybrid work environment.

We know there are many things that can go wrong when planning and executing RTO plans, and some things will just not go as planned no matter how hard you try. But what can you as an individual do to make the most of the transition, and still focus on the evolving employee and business needs? Here are 8 tips to help ease that transition.

  1. Put your own wellbeing first 
    It’s important to recognize and appreciate that your own wellbeing is an important foundation for your ability to lead and support others. In talking with clients, we see that many are feeling overwhelmed, helpless, burned out, and exhausted. When your wellbeing is significantly out-of-balance, it’s hard to take on all the other demands of the people leader role.
    Also see Give Yourself a Break: Self-Care in the Time of Pandemic
  2. Ensure you understand your role as messenger of RTO plans 
    Ensure your communications around corporate guidelines on new work policies are aligned with other communications being launched before and during RTO.
    Also see Business Leaders’ Communication Planning is Critical During Crisis
  3. Be a role model—in all aspects 
    You are in a position where people look to you and see how to interpret guidelines and rules. So be conscious of all areas where coworkers may use your behaviors as a best practice for their own behaviors. For example, wellbeing is a hot topic nowadays, and companies like to state that employee wellbeing is important, but it’s your behavior that ultimately makes that true for the people you lead.
  4. Focus on maintaining steady performance during RTO 
    Any transformation has the potential to cause performance disruption—even before it happens as people get anxious about what’s to come. Look at potential areas where disruption may happen and proactively plan to support employees, remove barriers, and keep performance steady.
    Also see Leadership Behaviors that Drive High-Performance in a Hybrid Workplace
  5. Always anticipate challenges 
    If we’ve learned anything during this pandemic it’s that nothing is as predictable as we’d like. So anticipate challenges and barriers, don’t be discouraged when they do occur, and learn to be flexible and proactive in solving problems. Role-model these behaviors to others and encourage your teams to bring up potential challenges and brainstorm solutions.
  6. Share best practices for RTO 
    While you are responsible for leading your part of the organization/ your team(s) through RTO, other leaders will have best practices and learnings that may make your RTO easier. Schedule regular check ins with peers to create a platform for best practice sharing and collaboration.
  7. Gather feedback on how it’s going 
    Make sure you have a system in place to get regular feedback on RTO, related communications, and the impact of those shifts, and use that information to make appropriate changes going forward, or inform corporate of information that warrants a bigger-picture perspective.
  8. Celebrate and recognize people and their impact 
    The current situation has created an environment where positive recognition for the right behaviors, progress, or results has become scarce. Yet, we know that, during transformations and uncertain times, employees need this recognition more than ever. Find ways to let your employees know that you do see where they are making a difference, and that you appreciate their extra efforts.

Many of these practices you already know to be helpful in times of change, but it’s been a hectic year and a half, and many of us haven’t stopped to assess how we are doing on these fundamental leadership practices. Take a moment to pause, reflect, and determine what you personally can do more of or start doing again to be a better people leader in these uncertain times.

Also see additional posts in the Return to Office series:

Return-to-Office (RTO): Moving From Emergency-Mode to Positive Growth

The Power of Company Culture in the Return to Office

Creating and Building Trust in a Hybrid Environment


Topics: Return To Office (RTO)