The Coach's Corner

Return to the office – or else

As I dropped my husband off at the office yesterday morning, we reflected on the change that’s taking place throughout downtown Denver. More businesses are winding down the summer of 2023 with a call to return to the office – anywhere from 2-4 days a week. And this time, it’s more than a call. You may have heard Amazon CEO Andy Jassy telling employees last week that their policy, requiring corporate employees to be in the office three days a week, is real.

“If you can’t disagree and commit, it’s probably not going to work out for you at Amazon.”

Today’s headline, bringing workers around the world back to the office, demonstrates how more employers are insisting their workforce collaborate in person. One of my coaching clients shared an insight on how she’s working through the frustrations her team is expressing using a tool to listen well, from the Center for Creative Leadership, that pushes her to be proactive in sifting through what her team is up against. Let’s dive in!

The Coach’s Corner Newsletter #13

HEADLINE

Back to the office

For months, companies around the world have been trying to incentivize their employees to return to work. In the past few weeks, that effort to draw them back has become a mandate. Covid-19 forced many industries to shift to remote or hybrid work, and now employers are more confident they can safely bring their workers back to work in person.

Research released by the real estate firm JLL reveals that nearly a million US employees are now subject to newly effective return-to-office mandates.

As a result of continued policy shifts, 1.5 million office-based employees in the U.S. have had new attendance policies take effect in 2023 so far, and another 1 million will face mandates that take effect through the end of the year, pending increases for any announcements yet to come.

As more Fortune 500 companies demand their workers return to the office, smaller companies are deciding to follow suit. The leniency employers have offered to keep their businesses running is being replaced by a belief that working together is critical for business.

Writing at qz.com, Gabriela Riccardi, offers some innovative ways to bring people back to the office by giving employees a say in how they will work in person.

  1. Let the team co-write your RTO plans.
  2. Concentrate your office in time blocks.
  3. Gather everyone for collaboration carve-outs.

Read her insightful piece, The Great Return.

INSIGHT

How do I manage my frustrated team?

My team is so angry with me because I’ve been the one who’s had to spearhead the return to office mandate for our org.

When ‘Janelle’ brought that up in our coaching session, she expressed that she had been exploring ways to engage with her team who absolutely didn’t want to come back in the office three days a week. They had childcare issues, school just started, their commute would cut into their ability to do their jobs, one team member had sold his car!

Once she acknowledged their anger wasn’t about her, but their response to the mandate that she was delivering, she told me she had an ‘aha’ moment. Pulling out a piece of paper, Janelle started writing down all of the concerns her team shared with her.

The next week, armed with the issues they brought up, she walked into her supervisor’s office and told him she wanted to work out a plan WITH her team based on this data.

He agreed, and she called a team meeting in person. One by one the team got to address how they would like to see the return to office take place and what they would need.

Janelle was blown away. She told me that once her team knew they’d been heard, they were much more willing to consider best practices for each of them to come into the office 3 days a week. It’s not perfect, but she says the mood is lightening up.

TOOL

Listen well

Listening is the number one way I engage with clients, colleagues and anyone I encounter. When someone believes they are being heard, the path for connection opens up. This coaching tool, from the Center for Creative Leadership, offers a brilliant way to listen and move forward.

From the Center for Creative Leadership
  1. Pay attention.When the person you’re listening to realizes you won’t be interrupting him/her – there is a safe space to think and speak.
  2. Withhold judgment.Stay open to new ideas and perspectives by staying away from sharing your opinions, criticism or trying to change their view.
  3. Reflect.As you listen – be aware that the other person may not know you’ve heard what they are saying. Mirror their pace, information and emotion by checking in with key points.
  4. Clarify.Use open-ended questions to ask about any issue that’s unclear. These will encourage the other person to problem solve rather than justify their position.
  5. Summarize.Restate key themes as the conversation unfolds – confirming your understanding of the other person’s point of view.
  6. Share.Once you understand the other person, you can offer your thoughts on what they’ve communicated to you. From this point, the conversation can shift into problem solving.

My takeaway

There’s no easy answer for the millions of people around the world who are dealing with the reality that returning to the office is no longer an option.

My husband and I are changing things up for drop-offs and pickups, medical visits and car repairs. Even grocery shopping is returning to pre-Covid-19 patterns. We remember that we did do this before.

It’s been helpful to listen to what the leadership of an org believes is important for success, as well as listening to employees/team members who have to make changes in their lives to accommodate the mandate to return to work. Janelle’s insight of listening to her team, talking to her supervisor, then working out a collective plan? Brilliant.

Some may choose to go their own way – some may not have that choice. Either way, there’s room to hear a point of view without judgment.

Listening well – how do you keep this skill alive in your work and life?

 

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