Return to Office Communications: 8 Questions Leaders Should Be Prepared To Answer

September 2021 | By Danielle Hochstein, Ph.D.

“The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” -George Bernard Shaw

I’m sure we’ve all heard this quote before. But at no time did it ring truer to me than now. Before the pandemic, communication was routinely one of the biggest challenges of any transformation—or rather, the inconsistency, ineffectiveness, or complete absence of any given communication. But now we live in a time where ensuring timely, effective communication is concurrently easier (through technology) and more difficult (through remote work) than ever before.

On that backdrop we are now tasked with one of the trickiest transformations yet: the Return to Office (RTO). Whatever your model will look like—all virtual, hybrid, a mix depending on role—the transition will be difficult. What’s making it even more difficult is the fact that right now we can’t say for sure if the new ways of working will stick, or if once we’ve made the move, we’ll just have to return to virtual work in the near future.



All we know is that we need to define this RTO transformation in a more fluid and flexible way. As a result, the communication strategy has to be very carefully crafted to support that flexible RTO strategy.

Effective Communication is Important Before and During RTO

First, ensure you truly understand and leverage all communication channels across the organization. Customize your communications to the audience by delivering them in the ways and languages—both literal and figurative—that are most frequently used and accepted. Be concise and make sure all communications regarding RTO plans are in alignment, supporting each other.

8 Critical Questions People Want Answered

Once you’re clear on the communication avenues and alignment strategies, make sure you address all the critical questions which are most likely on peoples’ minds before the RTO begins:

  1. What will RTO look like for our company in the big picture?
  2. Why are we doing this? Why are we doing it at this point of the pandemic? What is the unique value of the RTO transformation to us now?

The next question might be a surprise to some, but it is essential. While the move from a mostly in-office culture to a virtual environment was forced upon us, employees now feel a strong sense of ownership and personal rights around what their future work arrangement should look like.

  1. How have you taken employee views and experiences and feedback into account when making decisions about RTO? How does that show up in the decisions and plans you’ve made?

Imagine this: You conducted a survey about how employees feel about returning to the office, and a surprisingly large number of people admit that they would prefer to stay in a virtual work arrangement. But you want everyone back in the office, at least part time. This is something that’s happening a lot, and it is putting organizations in a bit of a dilemma—you cannot take every opinion and address the topic to their satisfaction. But you certainly can be careful and thoughtful about your communications and the way you demonstrate care for employee wellbeing.

The next set of questions to consider in supporting your RTO communication plans are more straightforward and geared towards specific teams in the organization:

  1. What does RTO mean for our team, and how does it benefit us ultimately?
  2. What’s needed from employees to make this transition work?
  3. What will the organization as a whole, and my direct supervisors do to support our RTO and remove barriers during execution?

Answering these questions proactively and repeating them consistently will make the RTO transition easier for everyone. But there are a few more questions that can make or break your RTO communication strategy:

  1. What is not yet known about the RTO transition? What are the COVID uncertainties that we’ll revisit over and over again, adjusting plans accordingly?
  2. How is employee wellbeing addressed in the ongoing RTO transformation?

These last two questions are telling: we all know the pandemic isn’t over yet, and employees continue to burnout and show uncertainty fatigue. Your RTO strategy and communication should be clear about how these factors influence execution plans and the support options available.

Of course, a comprehensive communication strategy is much bigger than can be summarized here. But I’d guess that many readers didn’t think about the answers to at least some of these communications questions. Ultimately, employees understand the current state of affairs is murky at best when it comes to dealing with the pandemic. That’s why it’s even more important for communications to be carefully crafted, empathetically expressed, and honestly written.

Did You Know...

Coaching questions are key to the ongoing communication process. When team members believe that their work and role are important, and that they are adding value, they become more invested in the organization’s mission. Read this article to discover coaching prompts that provide a two-way communication opportunity and will reinforce relationships and strengthen long-term trust in the company. 

Topics: Return To Office (RTO), Hybrid Work Environment